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Scatterheart

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Being best friends with someone for more than ten years allows you a certain insight into their mind. You can tell when they’re upset or sad. You know what to say to make them perk up or smile. You build these inside jokes that can make soda come out their nose at just the mention of it. Sometimes you can talk for eight hours straight without getting bored while other times you can go without talking for days and pick up right where you left off. It hurts when you can’t help them and it’s the best feeling in the world just to be by their side.

Riku feels his chest clench a bit when he walks into Sora’s last period to see him just sitting in his chair and staring at his desk. Riku wanders inside and takes the seat next to Sora’s. The brunet doesn’t even look up at him, which makes Riku worry more than he had in the past few days.

Sora had started acting weird three days ago for no reason that Riku could discern. From experience, Riku knew not to force Sora to talk about his problems lest the brunet blow up at him. Riku glanced at the paper on Sora’s desk; the essay he’d been stressing about last month is sitting on his desk with a large red C sitting on the top. Sora’s paper is covered in little red comments, which means he must have messed something up.

Considering the nearly three years they’d missed, that was actually quite a good grade. Then again, Kairi had been tutoring the two of them since they’d come back to the island after defeating Xemnas seven months prior. They’d been given a special waver after they’d explained where they’d been and given proof.

“Hey.” Riku breaks the eerie silence.

Sora snaps his head up to look at Riku, looking shocked that he’s sitting there.

“Hey, Riku.” Sora doesn’t smile at him.

Riku worries some more.

“You weren’t at the front gate. We’d made plans to go hang out on the island today.” They probably needed to study more if the large letter on Sora’s paper was anything to go by.

“Sorry, I’ve just been…in my head a lot lately.”

“What’s wrong?” Riku prods.

If Sora was willing to bring it up, then Riku felt it was safe to pry just a bit. The minute Sora says he doesn’t want to talk, Riku will back off.

“I just…I don’t know. Do you ever just feel…off? Like…you don’t know what you want to do, but whatever it is you’re doing, it’s just not it?”

“Yeah. I’ve felt like that. I usually just lie around for a few hours until I figure out what I want to do.”

Sora doesn’t look like that’s the answer he was looking for.

“What happens if you feel like that for more than a few hours?”

“I do what I need to do and just...don’t really think about it.”

Sora looks like he’s thinking it over and Riku sighs, wishing he could help Sora more.

“I-” Sora cuts himself off before starting again, “Are we still going to the Island?” Sora look up at Riku and he looks a little less troubled. Riku counts it as a small victory for now.

“Not if you don’t want to.”

“It’s better than going home and having my mom ask me to do more chores.” Sora grabs his papers and puts them away into his backpack before standing and slinging the pack over his right shoulder.

Riku smiles and stands, too, before they make their way out of their school.

They spend time just lounging in the sun, and Riku tries to think about how he can help Sora only to come up empty and feel helpless.

Then he feels bad for feeling bad because he should be focused on Sora, not himself.

***

After they’d split ways, Sora takes his time getting home. He feels so lost that he’s actually dizzy.

He stamps down on his feelings as he walks on, making sure to try and shake them off. If Riku noticed there was something wrong, that mask he’d perfected while riding the Gummi Ship must be slipping. He wonders if anyone else has noticed, or if it’s just Riku.

It’s probably just Riku. Riku could spot something wrong with him from a mile away, blindfolded and facing the opposite direction. Sora hopes he’d be able to tell if something was wrong with Riku.

Probably not, considering what happened to set him off on his journey in the first place. He’d merely thought Riku wanted to see other worlds, not that he was feeling abandoned or that Darkness had gotten a hold of them.

He turns onto his street and slows down even more.

On his journey, he’d learned a lot of things. He’d learned how to read people better. He’d learned how to cheer people up. He’d learned how to use magic and wield a sword better than he ever could have if he’d been stuck on the Island his whole life.

He thinks about the Keyblade and about how it didn’t chose him but had instead chosen Riku and was forced to use Sora as a replacement. He knows how strong he is, but he wonders how Riku felt when he’d practically stolen the Keyblade from him. That nagging voice inside his head reminds him that technically he stole it from his best friend twice.

Sora opens his front door to find his mother wandering about in the kitchen while cooking dinner and his father passed out on the couch, remote in hand. He calls out to his mother to let her know that he’s home before heading upstairs and flopping down onto his bed.

He wonders how his parents can live this life; so stagnant and monotonous.

He misses traveling. He misses his friends from all of the worlds’ he’d visited.

That feeling in his chest returns. The one telling him that he should be doing something. He should be doing anything but lying on his bed.

Riku’s advice, while insightful, was useless on Sora. When he just laid down, he felt the feeling strengthen. Just lying there with Riku for a few hours had been a chore.

Lying here is a chore, too. But he doesn’t know what he wants to do. He doesn’t know what he should be doing. And that frustrates him more than anything.

He closes his eyes and tries to think about the weird dreams he’d been having.

He sees people, people he feels like he’s supposed to know, and a place that feels like home but he’s never seen it before. He can’t hear anything, but he sees flashes of their lives and how their time together is drawn short. He can’t see by what, but he knows it is. His instincts are telling him that.

It reminds him of when he’d adopted Roxas’ memories. They’d felt like his, but he’d never lived them.

When his mother calls him down for dinner, he makes small talk with his parents – telling them how school is going better than it was and how his friends are all okay – and quickly makes his way back to his room.

Walking had felt…better than just lying around.

Maybe he should go for a walk? Just a walk. It seems so simple and as he makes his way down the stairs, he wonders why he hadn’t thought of it before.

He tells his mom that he’ll be back and not to worry because he has his key so they can lock the door.

She stops him as he’s halfway out to hug him and tell him that she loves him.

When he asks her why she’d done that, she smiles at him with a very sad smiles and she tells him that she’d just felt like she had to do it. So he hugs her back and he tells her that he loves her, too.

Outside, he feels a bit more refreshed, a bit less cooped up. The sea breeze that floats throughout town is a comfort in the hot, tropical climate of Destiny Islands. He heads off, without a real destination in mind.

 

Chapter Text

Riku can’t sleep. He’d spent the last three hours wondering how he could help Sora. He’d never really stopped. He still can’t think of anything, but he gets this feeling like Sora needs him around midnight, so he gets dressed and sneaks out of his house.

It’s not far to Sora’s house from his, but it is a few turns here and there. Then again, most people aren’t used to walking like Riku is. He’d spent months walking in the Realm of Darkness in penance. Of course, it hadn’t been months in the realm of light, but it had been months for Riku. Or had it only felt like months?

When Riku gets to Sora’s house, it’s an easy jump up to Sora’s bedroom window. Then again most people can’t jump like Riku can, either.

Riku knocks a few times before sliding it open with ease.

Riku wonders if Sora had forgotten to lock his window before he sees that Sora isn’t even in his room. Riku hops inside before one of the neighbors sees him and tells his parents on him (again) and closes the window behind him.

Riku looks around the room and wonders when Sora stopped being such a slob. Sure, the room wasn’t pristine, but it was a hell of a lot cleaner compared to before they started their journey. Riku silently makes his way over to Sora’s bathroom to find it empty, too. Sora’s bedroom door opens and Sora’s mother peeks inside.

“Oh, Riku.” She smiles, kindly.

Sora’s mother is kind and inviting and has absolutely no problems with Riku coming over at insane hours of the night. Sora’s father and Riku’s parents, however, have a huge problem with it. They think it’s not natural for two boys to be so close.

“Sora went for a walk around ten, and he hasn’t been back. You’re welcome to stay here. Should I check in at the usual time?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure. I’m going to go look for Sora. Sleep well.”

“You, too.” He wonders if he has to use the window again.

“My husbands’ asleep. You can use the front door.” She smiles, making her way down the hallway as he leaves out the front door.

He locks it behind him and wonders which way Sora could have gone. He wanders, letting his mind do the same, and ends up making his way to the docks. He finds that one of their small boats is missing.

Getting into his own, Riku makes his way out to their island. It doesn’t take him more than a minute to locate Sora on their little get-away Island. He’s standing on the lone isle connected to the Island by only a bridge. Riku worries when he sees Sora is standing there staring at his Keyblade.

He quickly jumps up onto the bridge, foregoing using the little shack with the stairs, and makes his way over to Sora.

“Sora!” Riku calls.

Sora quickly turns around, looking surprised that Riku is there, as the Keyblade disappears in a flash of light. Riku feels a twinge of jealousy that his own disappears in a mist of Darkness while Sora’s flashes away.

“You weren’t in your room when I came to visit.”

Sora looks away, out to the ocean like it’s supposed to do something for him.

“Riku?”

“Yeah?” He asks, walking closer to Sora.

“I can tell you anything, right?”

Riku doesn’t think he’s ever heard Sora sound so unsure of himself.

“Always, Sora.” Riku crosses what little distance between them and wraps his arms around Sora.

His heart does a little flip as Sora turns around and hugs him back. The silver haired boy smiles and rests his chin on top of Sora’s head. He’d always had a special place in his heart for Sora, but over the course of their journeys, his measly little crush had evolved beyond anything he’d ever imagined was possible. Sure, he’d love to be able to hold Sora in his arms and show the brunet how much he loves him romantically, but Riku knows about Sora’s feelings for Kairi and would never give up what he has with Sora. That’s not to say Sora would distance himself, but Riku knows their dynamic would change. Sora wouldn’t feel comfortable hugging him or casually touching him like he does now.

His feelings for Sora go beyond adoration and affection. He loves Sora more than he ever thought he could love anyone. He wouldn’t hesitate to give up the entire island again if it meant protecting Sora. The only people he’d worry about would be Kairi and possibly Sora’s mom. Perhaps his family too, but only a little.

“I feel like I need to be doing something.” Sora confesses, voice small and thoughtful.

“What do you mean? Like you’ve got pent up energy?”

Sora shakes his head, jostling Riku a bit, “I need to be doing something important. Something specific but I can’t figure out what it is. I know it has something to do with the dreams I’ve been having but they aren’t coherent enough to tell me anything and I know that it’s not on the island.”

Riku decides to tackle Sora’s problem one part at a time.

“What kind of dreams?”

“It’s kind of like when I visited Hallow Bastion and Twilight Town. I’d never been somewhere but I had so many feelings and emotions tied to the people and places I’d seen. I could see people I’d never met before but I couldn’t hear anything. It’s always too short to get anything useful.”

“Alright. So you think these dreams are trying to get you to do something. Something that’s not on the island.”

Sora nods and Riku backs up a little, keeping his hands on Sora’s shoulders.

“Then tomorrow, we’ll talk to Kairi, and we’ll figure out how to get off the island again without using a passage of darkness. We’ll find where you feel you need to be, Sora, I promise.”

Sora looks up at him in awe and smiles before hugging him again.

“Thanks, Riku. I was afraid you’d laugh.” Riku pushes him back just a bit again, to look at his face.

“What? Sora, when have I – okay, bad question. If this is as serious as you’re acting it is, how could I laugh at you? This is obviously bothering you and has been for the past week at the very least.”

“I don’t know, everyone seems to laugh off the feelings I get. Donald and Goofy on our adventures, everyone on the island, and even Kairi has laughed a few times.”

“Sora, I will never, ever laugh at you if you come to me telling me you have a bad feeling or if you’re feeling down. Never. I promise you that. Now come on, your mom’s worried about you and I’m feeling tired after looking all over for you.”

Sora grins at him, that bright one that takes over his whole face and body, before agreeing and the two make their way over to the docks where their boats are tethered.

***

Sora sighs as Riku, Kairi and himself make their way to the small secluded island connected to their getaway island. He feels antsy, more so than he had last night when he’d talked to Riku. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s any closer to figuring out what the hell his heart wants him to do.

It would probably be easier if he could dream more fluidly. Maybe then he could tell where he’s supposed to actually be instead of wasting time. Then again, even if he knew where he was supposed to be, he has no way of getting off the island without a Gummi ship.

“Earth to Sora!” Sora snaps out of this thoughts to turn and sees Kairi looking at him with worry.

“It must be worse than Riku told me. You’ve been silent all day.”

“I’m just trying to work things out.”

“Don’t hurt yourself trying too hard.” Kairi teases him, but it still hurts a bit.

Instead, he just smiles and huffs out a breath that’s meant to sound like a laugh.

“So tell me about these dreams you’ve been having.” Kairi asks, hopping up onto the bent Paopu tree trunk.

“Well…” Sora starts.

“I mean everything, Sora. Even if it seems insignificant to you, it could be a clue.” Kairi gives him – what he’s dubbed – a ‘Royal Glare’ which is her way of trying to look like she’s in charge.

“Well, it’s kind of like reliving a memory. Only, it’s more like a nightmare.” Sora rests his hands behind his head and lets himself recall what he can from his dreams, “There are two people our age. A guy and a girl and they’re both always really happy to see me. There’s an older man who looks like he could be their mentor and they all used Keyblades. Something bad happened, but I don’t know what, and they were pitted against each other. I think about them and it hurts sometimes. Like when I think about Axel or when I couldn’t find Riku and my entire adventure seemed completely hopeless. I get flashes of a castle every now and then, but it’s not in focus, more like I’m not really paying attention to anything happening around me. My heart aches in these dreams. It hurts like I’m underwater, and I’m running out of air, and the surface is right there but I can’t reach it.” Sora lets himself trail off.

“Wow.” Kairi sounds floored so Sora looks at her.

She just grins at him, “I never knew Sora was capable of sounding so smart and philosophical!” She laughs and Sora quickly looks down at his feet.

“That was incredibly rude, Kairi.” Riku snaps at her, but Sora just keeps his head down.

“Oh, come off it, Riku. Sora knows I was just kidding, right, Sora?”

Sora just looks out at the ocean.

“Oh.” He hears her voice come out quiet and a bit shocked.

Riku makes his way over to Kairi and the two of them walk off a bit, talking with their voices low. Sora turns away, not wanting to know if they’re talking about him – which is incredibly likely given the circumstances – and continues to watch the ocean.

He closes his eyes and tries to drown out the sound of the ocean below and the seagulls above. It’s not hard, and eventually the waves die out and the gull calls fade into the distance. It’s utterly silent ad he could hear a pin drop if it was inclined to do so. It doesn’t smell like the ocean or the beach anymore. It smells old and musty, like no one’s been there for a really long time. His mouth feels dry, like he hasn’t had anything to drink for days.

“Sora.”

No, he thinks, that’s not right.

The faces from his dreams come to focus and his chest aches again. It feels tight, like he’s lost them forever and it’s all his fault. Like he couldn’t find them and patch things up if he wanted to.

“Sora?”

No, that’s not it.

They reach out for him and smile, mouthing something at him. Sora tries to pay attention, but it’s fuzzy, like getting a bad picture on his grandpa’s old television set.

A woman’s voice calls out to him, Ven, you hopeless sleepyhead.

He’s pulled out of his reverie when Riku grabs his sleeve and pulls, sending Sora a bit off kilter.

“Were you daydreaming?” Riku looks genuinely concerned and Kairi looks more worried than he’d seen her in a long time.

“I…I think so.” Riku looks down and Sora follows to find his gaze drawn to his Keyblade, which he hadn’t meant to summon.

He seems to be doing that a lot lately.

“Sora, we need to work out a way to get to other worlds, do you have any ideas?”

Sora shakes his head, willing the Keyblade in his hands to disappear.

“We could try the raft idea again.” Is Riku’s sarcastic remark, which makes Sora laugh a bit even though he thinks that would be a horrible idea.

“Well what else can we do?”

“What about that letter in a bottle you sent Sora? It reached us in the Realm of Darkness maybe you could send one asking Mickey for help?”

“That is the stupidest idea I have ever heard, Riku. I’ll get right on it.” Kairi sighs and shakes her head.

“Do you really think it’ll work? You guys said you were on a beach when you found it and from what I’ve heard, castles don’t have beaches around them.”

“Do you have a better idea?” Riku snarks back and Sora smiles a bit, glad that the three of them are together again. A bit sad that his heart is trying to take him on another adventure that doesn’t give him a good feeling.

Of course, he’d left that part out. He couldn’t tell Riku and Kairi that he had a feeling of impending doom about this quest his heart was trying to send him on. They’d force him to stay put and not go.

He just smiles and watches Kairi and Riku talk about ways they could possibly contact someone with a Gummi ship and get off the island.

 

Chapter Text

Riku and Kairi hadn’t actually worked out a viable way to get off the island during their chat. There had been a few joke ideas and a few farfetched ones they were going to try anyway, but the point still remained; they had no way of getting off the island and to where ever Sora feels he’s supposed to be.

He just hopes Sora will let him stay by his side where ever he decides he has to be.

The silver haired teen rolls over in his bed and throws the sheet off. As per normal on Destiny Island, it’s hot as hell even though it’s cooled off considerably since the sun went down. Riku misses some of the cooler worlds he’d visited on his trips. Hallow Bastion had been a bit chilly, but it was marvelous compared to the sweltering heat the Islands got to. And it’s only winter.

At least the sea breeze helps, he thinks to himself.

Three weeks without as much as an idea and Riku is ready to rip his hair out one by one. He can’t imagine how Sora feels. The older boy sighs, knowing he’s not going to get any sleep tonight, and gets up. After getting dressed, he climbs out of his bedroom window and makes his way down the street.

He lets his mind wander around like a hamster in a wheel with no destination as he wanders the familiar path from his house to Sora’s. He’s wondering if their Keyblades could get them off the island when he notices something out of the corner of his eye.

The silver haired teen stops where he is on the bridge spanning the old dried up river and tries to focus on the movement he sees. Curious, Riku makes his way towards where the person is walking.

At least it looked like a person. It’s dark and, unlike Traverse Town, Destiny Island doesn’t have any street lamps for night time. Riku gets a bit worried when he reaches the edge of town and he sees the figure getting on one of the boats they use to get over to the other island. It’s a law on the Island that all boats are to be at the dock by sundown as paddling at night can get dangerous, especially if you fall out.

Riku turns to leave and just let the idiot go, but his gut tells him to follow. Sora’s always talking about how you’re supposed to follow your gut, so Riku gets into his boat that’s docked and sets out after the idiot in front of him.

Riku’s string of curses is interrupted when he reaches the dock on the smaller island and he spots the other boat drifting away. It hadn’t even been tied off. Riku figures if they weren’t that concerned with it, he won’t be and he sets out down the beach where he can kind of see the figure standing on the isolated Island.

He’s not in too much of a hurry until there’s a flash of light and Riku instantly recognizes Sora’s ridiculous hair. Riku instantly takes off towards the island and watches as Sora, now clad in a bronze and gold suit of armor, tosses his Keyblade into the air.

“Sora! Sora, wait!” He calls, leaping onto the bridge before rushing towards Sora.

He’s too late when Sora jumps onto what looks like a jet propelled skateboard and takes off into the sky.

“Sora! Stop!” His heart is racing as Sora flies towards what looks like a portal.

Once he’s through, the portal closes behind him and Riku is left standing on the island feeling completely alone.

***

Sora doesn’t know what leads him to their Island that night. But he’s here and he feels like this is taking a step in the right direction. His heart is hammering away in his chest as his right arm lifts to cross over his chest and encase himself in armor. He doesn’t spend time marveling at himself, his body tells him to go. Now.

He doesn’t know how he knew how to summon that ride. But he did and it’s exhilarating as he soars into the sky above the islands like it’s nothing. There’s no wind to whip at his face or sting his eyes and he wants to let out a yell of joy. He’s too abuzz with need to get somewhere to do anything else.

He doesn’t even know how he opened the portal and made it here. Sora barely even remembers going through the portal from Destiny Islands to here. Where ever here is. It’s vaguely familiar, and it takes Sora a minute to realize these are the open fields he, Donald, and Goofy were placed in after sealing the Door to Darkness.

Sora thinks about Riku and nearly panics. He left him on the Island.

Everyone’s going to wake up and realize I’m gone, he freaks out.

He turns to go back, but the fields stretch on and he doesn’t think he could summon that ride if he tried. His heart gives a painful tug and Sora decides that if he can’t go back, he might as well go forward. He can go back and apologize to Riku and the others later.

He heads off in the direction that his heart is pulling him and it doesn’t take him long to come upon a large castle. He recognizes it as Castle Oblivion; where he’d met Naminé, had his memories altered, and slept for a year to get them back.

He fears going inside, and logically he knows that the only reason his memories had been altered was because of Naminé but part of him remembers not remembering and he hates that feeling.

It’s kind of like the feeling he has right now.

He steels his resolve and enters the castle. It’s exactly as he remembers it; pristine and white and intimidating. The ceiling is impossibly high and the entrance hall is lined with pillars.

Sora’s heart tugs again. Unlike last time, it looks like he’ll be descending stairs instead of ascending them. He moves on auto pilot and before he knows it, he’s defeated nearly a horde of heartless and has reached the bottom level. He can’t get any farther down, but his heart is telling him to keep going.

He searches the entire level and is rewarded when a panel on the farthest wall opens for him. His heart is beating rapidly as me makes his way into the newly revealed room. The room reminds him of the throne room in the World That Never Was where the Organization had held their meetings only this room is shorter, with only three chairs.

He turns and smiles as his heart stops pounding in his chest.

He’s found what he’s been looking for.

Chapter Text

It takes Riku three days to figure out what Sora had done and two more to more to actually accomplish it himself. But it doesn’t even matter when he has no idea where Sora went. Kairi, as hard as she’s trying, can barely summon her Keyblade, let alone the armor and ride that Sora and, now, Riku could produce.

It was on Kairi’s suggestion that he go on without her and come back to get her when he found Sora. Surely she’d get it by then and instead of running off after them and risk getting separated, she’d wait here.

Riku had been both reluctant and relieved when she’d voiced the idea. After a bit of debating about where he should go, Kairi suggested Traverse Town, as it was where people who lost their worlds and were lost themselves went.

It hadn’t resulted in anything as the entire town was empty.

His next stop was Hallow Bastion. When he arrived, it was exactly how Sora had described it after their journey. With what had happened here last time with ‘Ansem,’ Riku hadn’t been too inclined to return. But he’s looking for Sora and no amount of bad experiences would deter him from finding the brunet.

While on the outside of the city limits, he finds himself fighting a few Heartless. Nothing he can’t handle, but he feels more winded than he should and he resolves to train a bit more. Once he’s in the city, however, all the heartless are taken out by the defense system Sora had told him so much about.

It’s not hard at all to wander the streets looking for some kind of sign that Sora had been around. No one bats an eyelash at him. Most people don’t even bother looking up when he walks by.

He’s about halfway through the city and standing on a ledge overlooking the rest of the city when someone walks towards him. Actually walks towards him.

The man is tall and he honestly reminds Riku of an older, blonde Sora. Except he has a look of complete disinterest and he’s wearing far too much black.

“So, this is going to sound like the weirdest question, but I have to ask…” The guy starts and Riku is a bit surprised that he’s even talking to him. He looks like the kind of guy to say few words and never start conversations, “Is your name Riku?”

Riku really wasn’t expecting that, “Uh, yeah. How’d…”

“I’m a friend of Sora’s. We met when he was looking for you a few years ago.”

“Oh, well it’s nice to meet you…”

“Cloud.”

“Cloud. It’s nice to meet you. Have you seen Sora recently?”

“No.”

Riku sighs, feeling especially heavy.

“Guess I should try another world then.”

“You’re looking for him?”

“Yeah. He ran off and I’m trying to find him.”

The blond man lets out a small chuckle.

“Looks like you’ve switched roles.” Riku lets out a small laugh as well.

“Maybe Leon’s seen him around. Follow me.” He turns and leads Riku through the city like it’s not a confusing maze.

When they’d entered the castle, Riku hadn’t been expecting another maze but it was what greeted him so he stuck close to Cloud in the hopes that he wouldn’t get lost. A few turns here and there and Riku finds himself in what looks like a planning room. Maybe a conference room?

There are a few people standing around, some look familiar and some don’t but everyone looks up when Cloud clears his throat.

The first one to pipe up is the brunet man standing off in the far corner of the room, “Aren’t you -”

“That’s Riku!” A black haired girl jumps up from her seat and would have tackled Riku had Cloud not stopped her.

Riku wonders how all of these people know what he looks like.

“So you were the anomaly earlier?” The brunet asks instead.

“Uh, anomaly?” Riku asks.

He nods, looking him over, “Did you come here on a Gummi Ship?”

“No, it’s hard to explain. I’m not quite sure how it works either.”

A brunette woman walks over, looking hopeful, “Is Sora with you?”

“No.” Cloud answers for him, “Looks like their roles have reversed.”

“Sora’s run off?” The black haired girl asks, worried.

“Yes, I’m looking for him.”

“Well, that’s not good.”

“Why not?” Riku asks, worried.

“Well, because the heartless have been acting up lately,” the brunette frets, picking at her nails, “They’ve been testing how far in they can get past the defense system.”

“I noticed Heartless outside the city, but there weren’t any inside.”

“There haven’t been any Heartless strong or fast enough to get past the Defense System, but the fact that they’re trying is worrying enough.” The black haired girl comments, crossing her arms and closing her eyes in a thoughtful gesture.

“If you’re worried about Heartless I could do a sweep for you guys.” Riku offers.

“Oh? You’d be willing to do that for us?” The brunette woman asks, sounding surprised.

“Well, yeah. You guys are Sora’s friends and you helped him out a lot over the years. It’s the least I could do.”

The man with the scar makes a low, humming sound before nodding, “Alright. Then after that you can come back here and catch up on the rest you look like you’re going to need.”

Riku looks around at them in surprise, “You’d be willing to let me stay here for a bit?”

“Of course, silly.” The black haired girl laughs, “Like you said, you’re Sora’s friend and any friend of Sora is a friend of ours!”

Riku is silent for a beat before he lets out a low chuckle, “Well, I guess I should formally introduce myself. I’m Riku, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“I’m Yuffie.” The black haired girl waves to herself, “This is Aerith,” she motions to the other woman in the room, “You already met Cloud and that’s Squall.”

“It’s Leon.” The man with the scar glares at Yuffie.

“Right. I’m going to head out and do that sweep.”

***

Leon watches Riku leave a bit unsure. The teen had looked tired. Not ready to pass out any second, but tired none the less. He doesn’t have long to fret before Cloud makes his way over to his side.

“Stop worrying. It’ll work out.”

“That’s a bit hypocritical, coming from you.” Leon smirks, chancing a look through his peripheral vision at the blond.

“It always works out one way or another.” Cloud’s monotone voice gives away nothing, but Leon can tell from experience and time that he’s being sincere and believes what he’s saying.

“Tifa teach you that?” Leon teases, poking fun.

“Sora, actually.” With that, Cloud makes his way out of the room.

Leon only has a moments reprieve before Yuffie starts prattling on again about whatever it was she’d been talking about earlier.

***

Riku’s little excursion really does nothing when it comes to finding out why Heartless are poking at the cities defenses but it does cement the idea of training in his mind. It wasn’t like he hadn’t tried to stay in shape but Kairi was leagues under him and Sora – though she could hold her own against Heartless, they just had more field experience – and he knew Sora too well for their sparring matches to actually benefit either of them. They usually gave up after making no headway in their matches.

Though…even those had stopped taking place once Sora had gone out of sorts. Riku curses himself and knows he should have brought it up sooner, but he’d always had to give Sora time. Maybe it’s different now that his best friend had gone on those adventures of his.

Riku sighs and makes his way back to the castle, regretting that he couldn’t find anything more solid for Cloud and the others here in Hallow Bastion. Sora probably would have found the source of the oddity and eradicated it.

Comparing yourself to Sora won’t get you anywhere, he shakes his head to disperse the bad ideas.

After a bit of navigating through the castle, Riku finds Aerith who tells him that he’s on the completely opposite side of the castle. The bunk rooms are this way, she smiles, not unlike Sora’s mom always had, and leads the way to where Riku will spend a few hours catching up on rest. Just going through the portal twice had drained him of a lot of energy.

He wonders how many times Sora has gone through the portal since leaving Destiny Island almost six days ago.

 

Chapter Text

Riku is jerked awake when the door to the room he’d been staying in slams open. His first thought was ‘Where’s the danger?’ before ‘Shit, I slept in, my mother is going to kill me’ kicks in and he’s sitting up in bed, rubbing at his eyes. Only, it’s not his mother standing in the doorway and he’s not wearing his pajamas.

Leon smirks at him before telling him, “Get up and ready, I’ve got good news.”

Riku frowns for a bit, confused, before deciding it has to be good since he’s only slept like six hours – which he’s used to, but he has no time limit on how long he can sleep here, does he? – and gets out of the little bed they’d provided him.

He’s shrugging on his vest when he enters the old conference room. He’s not surprised to see Yuffie and Cloud there too, but there’s no sign of Aerith.

“There’s been another anomaly detected in the atmosphere.” Cloud tells him, nodding towards the console that’s lit up like a Christmas tree. Riku can’t actually read any of the symbols on the screen, but he can guess what they mean.

“Anomaly? That’s the word you used when I got here.”

“Bingo.” Yuffie chirps, “We figure Sora might have come to you instead.”

“Do you know where it is?” Riku is more alert now than he remembers being for a long time.

***

“What am I going to do with you?” Sora sighs, squatting down next to the sleeping boy he’s brought with him.

“You just sit there and sleep,” he doesn’t really mean anything by it, but the silence has been driving him crazy, “You really are a lazy bum, just like me.”

Silence is all that greets him.

“So is Ven short for something?”

More silence is all he receives.

He sighs and gazes around. He landed on Hallow Bastion like he’d aimed for, but too far away from the city for him to make it there with Ven as dead weight.

I could try to summon that glider again, he thinks.

But then he’d be stuck trying to balance the two of them on it again and that had already ended badly once, he wasn’t about to risk breaking his neck again just for convenience.

He sighs and hangs his head before standing up and looking at the blonde next to him.

“Well, we might as well get a move on.”

After a bit of maneuvering, he gets the other boy on his back and he starts making his way through the canyons outside Hallow Bastion’s city walls.

They’re still the off-putting blue they’d been the last time he’d been here and that gives Sora a little hope. Maybe Leon and the others can watch Ven while he goes back to the Islands and apologizes to Riku and Kairi for leaving like he did.

He’d guess they’re about halfway there when he gets the feeling he’s not alone. He can’t fight with Ven on his back but putting him down could put him in danger, especially if Heartless show up. He looks around, trying to see if there’s an actual threat around, but he doesn’t find one so he keeps moving, trying to get as close to Hallow Bastion as he can. That feeling just gets stronger and it has nothing to do with him getting closer to Hallow Bastion’s city gates.

Once he reaches a clearing he sets Ven down so his back is facing the wall.

He doesn’t have time to turn around before he hears, “Hello, Sora.”

Sora spins around, Keyblade at the ready, where he find a man he’s never seen before. His heart clenches painfully as he looks at the other man. He looks about his age with somewhat tanned skin, white hair, and yellow eyes. He gets the feeling this is somehow connected to the Heartless Ansem and Xemnas.

“Who are you and why are you here?”

“Oh, Sora. I’m a bit hurt that you don’t remember me. We’ve had such fun times together, haven’t we?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sora stands with his Keyblade at the ready, not quite crouched in his normal stance but ready should this weirdo make a move.

“Oh, that hurts, Sora. You don’t remember? Me destroying your island home? Me possessing your childhood best friend? Not even me trying to obtain Kingdom Hearts? Though that last one was attempted twice.”

Sora’s quickly catches up, “That means you’re Xehanort. But your heart was -”

“Consumed by darkness, yes, I know. But see, the amazing thing is; when you kill off a powerful Heartless and their Nobody, you get their recreated body. For me, it means what you see before you.”

“But you’re….young.”

“Yes, well, this vessel was young when I possessed it. Seems his body reverted back.”

His heart clenches again and he has no idea why, “You never told me what you want.”

Xehanort sighs, walking around but never moving closer to Sora or Ven, “I want a lot of things, Sora. I think the more appropriate question would be ‘What can you do for me?’.”

“I’m not doing anything for you!” Sora yells.

“No. But you would do something for him.” He points as the unconscious boy behind him.

Sora takes a risk and looks behind him for a second.

“What do you want with Ven?”

“Oh? You know his name? I suppose the bond between you two must be quite powerful. It has been ten years since you accepted his heart beside your own.”

“What are you talking about?”

“His heart was shattered and what was left of it took refuge in your heart, letting him heal himself. Now that he’s healed, he wants out. Did you think it was your own heart guiding you?” He chuckles, as if the thought was actually amusing.

Sora doesn’t know if he should even give him a second thought. But Ansem and Xemnas had never lied, only warped the truth.

“You STILL haven’t told me what you’re doing here!” Sora yells instead of thinking too deeply about the merits of listening to this incarnation of Xehanort.

“I want the boy. Whole. And to do that, I need to get his heart out of you.”

“Well, I’ve got bad news for you. If his heart really took refuge in me ten years ago, it’s gone now. You should know that! I releases Kairi’s heart and the hearts of the other Princesses! If his heart was there, it had to be released too!”

“No, it wasn’t. The other hearts were whole and ready to be released. Ventus’ heart was not and so it clung to yours while you slipped into darkness for that short period of time.”

Sora stops short. Could Ven’s heart really be inside him?

“And how do you plan to get his heart out of me? Kill me?”

“If necessary, yes. It could result in that. The method I had in mind was a bit…less gruesome.” Sora tenses up when he reaches out his hand and summons a Keyblade.

A very familiar Keyblade at that; The Keyblade of People’s Hearts. The same Keyblade he’d used to unlock Kairi’s heart on his first journey. Sora feels uneasy just being in its presence. The last time, he’d barely gotten back by the grace of Kairi’s light. Now that he’s full of more darkness, he doesn’t think it would even be possible to save him. He glances down towards his chest, where his heart lies, wondering if he’s speaking the truth.

“I see we’re going to have to do this the hard way, Sora. Pity. I’d hoped you’d just cooperate.”

He could swear he hears his name being called and he looks up just in time to parry Xehanort’s stabbing motion. He counters, putting his entire body into the swing. The gray haired man jumps back, graceful like his predecessors – successors? – and Sora has barely enough time to ready himself before he’s coming after him again.

It doesn’t take long for Sora to realize he can’t defeat Xehanort. Not on his own. Not now. Not after months of going without any decent training.

Sora hears his name again in the distance and he knows someone is looking for him. He doesn’t really think about it, he just sends out a large ball of light and, as Xehanort is dancing around it to get to him, it explodes in a pillar of light. It leaves him exposed, but help is his only chance of getting himself and Ven out of this situation alive.

“Sora, look out!” The light clears enough for Sora to see Xehanort charging at him blindly.

Sora jumps back and to the side, but he’s not quick enough; the Keyblade still pierces his chest.

 

Chapter Text

After getting the location from Leon, Riku quickly makes his way out of the city and into the canyons beyond. He’s mad at Sora, but he’s probably not going to yell at him when he eventually finds him.

He’ll be too happy to see the goofy brunet. He calls out the brunet’s name, but he doesn’t get a response. He’s brought to alertness by the sound of blades clashing. It doesn’t sound too far, so Riku charges forward towards the sound.

Light explodes from ahead and he runs around a ridge of canyon right as it’s dying down.

Someone is diving at Sora so Riku doesn’t think, he just yells, “Sora, look out!” and dives forward to try and intersect the assailant.

He doesn’t make it, but Sora is smart enough to dive back and to the side at his call and Riku manages to send the assailant back a few feet.

The man, though vaguely familiar, is unknown to him but he knows the man in front of him hadn’t backed off because of Riku. He’d chosen to.

Sora lets out a startled gasp in what sounds like pain and Riku turns to look at him. Sora is on one knee with a sword sticking partially out of his chest.

“Sora!”

“Focus! He’s more important! I’m fine! He missed.” Sora’s breathing heavily, but other than that it looks like he’ll be okay; he’s surprisingly not bleeding.

Riku looks back to the offender, sensing a familiar feeling from him, but Riku knows he’s never seen this man before. He glances back to Sora and zeroes in on the blade sticking out from his chest and tenses. It was the Keyblade Ansem had gotten Sora to use in order to free the princesses hearts. But how did this guy have it?

Riku focuses on him again and gets into his normal defensive stance.

“Oh, Riku. So glad you could join our little soiree.”

“How do you know my name? Why are you attacking Sora?”

“It’s Xehanort.” Sora gasps behind him obviously not as okay as he’d said he’d been.

Riku takes a few steps to the side, situating himself more directly between Sora and ‘Xehanort’. That could explain the familiar feeling he was getting. That would also explain the silver hair and golden eyes he hadn’t paid attention to before.

“Oh good, we don’t have to go through this again.”

“Leave. Now. Or I’ll force you to.”

The man in front of him laughs, “How do you plan on doing that?”

“You have no weapon. I’m thinking that puts me at an advantage.”

Xehanort just raises one eyebrow before falling into a stance similar to Riku’s and summoning another Keyblade into his hands.

Well, shit, he thinks to himself.

Before he can rethink his plan, Xehanort is charging towards him and it takes everything Riku has to not let him past. It’s a relentless assault and Riku barely has time to get his body in position to block an attack before it hits.

Eventually, he knows he’ll give in because his body can’t compete with the strength the man in front of him is presenting.

Another lunge and Riku dodges to the side. He tries to get his own hit in, but Xehanort is dancing away and attacking with a diagonal slash that numbs Riku’s arms when he blocks it.

He gasps for breath as Xehanort dances away again and instead of charging at Riku again, he stands there looking smug. Riku tries to figure out what has him looking so smug, but he hadn’t beaten Riku yet – though it was just a matter of time at this point – and he’s missed whatever he’d been trying to unlock from Sora’s heart. Unlike last time, Sora wasn’t willingly going to –

Unless he was.

“I’ll return to collect my reward soon.” He backs away, into a portal of darkness, looking victorious.

Riku whirls around to see a small flash of light and his stomach drops. Sora, who had at one point stood from his wounded position on one knee, is surrounded by tendrils of light.

The light is emerging from his chest and there is a large round light in his hands that Riku knows is a heart. Riku rushes forward, dropping his Keyblade and not caring where it falls. Sora’s body tilts back – there’s nothing keeping him upright anymore – and the heart flies up, out of sight.

Riku catches Sora right as he’s about to hit the ground and he’s unsure if he should be grateful that Sora is still solid – instead of how he’d disappeared the last time – or not.

“Sora! Sora, look at me! Sora, please!” But Sora’s eyes are lifeless and dull, like Kairi’s had been those months he’d spent as Maleficents’ errand boy.

“No, no, no. Sora please.” He feels the familiar sting behind his eyes but he doesn’t care as he shakes Sora lightly.

“Sora, come back, please.” His voice cracks, “I can’t do this without you.”

***

After the initial anomaly the computer had sensed, another came up. This one the computer knew to recognize as the pathways of Darkness. The worrying part was that the area it had been in was around the area Riku was headed to.

Leon, with Cloud by his side, quickly rushed off to help. They’d been expecting to find another hooded figure and offer any help they could. They weren’t expecting to find Riku curled up around Sora’s limp body. The brunet’s eyes stare off into the distance, lifeless and the only sound around them are the tiny, broken sobs coming from the silver haired boy.

Leon quickly walks over and kneels beside Riku, asking what happened. The silver haired boy doesn’t respond, doesn’t even act as if he’s registered the question. He’s about to press the question, maybe get Riku to a safer place, but Cloud stops him with a hand on his shoulder and a shake of his head.

Instead of forcing Riku to focus on him or the situation, Leon closes Sora’s eyes. For Riku as much as himself; Sora’s eyes should never be that dead.

He stands and lets Cloud lead him back and the two of them discuss what they should do about Riku, Sora, and the unconscious blond lying on the floor by the far wall. They’re interrupted by a small groan.

Leon whirls around and he zeroes in on Sora, but he hasn’t moved aside from the slight shift Riku makes every so often. That leaves the blond not far from them.

The boy is awake and sitting up, looking around in confusion.

***

Ven opens his eyes before quickly shutting them again. The light stings and it brings tears to his sensitive eyes. He blinks, trying to rid the stars from his vision, and pushes his body up from the awkward lying position it had been in.

He immediately wishes he hadn’t as he feels dizzy right away. When he can finally see around him, he’s surprised to find people he doesn’t know in front of him.

He takes in the situation and is immediately worried. Off on the other side of the clearing he’d somehow gotten himself into, there is a slightly surprised looking pair. But that’s not what worries him; there’s a silver haired boy cradling a brunet in his arms and crying not that far from him.

It’s not the crying you’d do if you were hurt or if you were upset. It’s the kind of crying that happens when you’ve been broken inside. The blonde doesn’t know how he knows that, but he does. He knows that the silver haired boy – man? Teen? It was hard to tell from this angle – wouldn’t be crying unless it was drastic or devastating or even some mixture of both.

Ventus tries to sit up, but his body feels weak and he falls back down before he can get anywhere resembling standing. The blonde knows he should be worried when the two older men in the clearing make their way towards him, but all he feels is a sense of safety and trust.

“Are you alright?” The taller blond asks him, kneeling beside Ven.

“I think so, I’m just…I feel really weak.”

The brunet grabs his arm and hauls him to his feet before nodding to the man next to him. Nodding back, the blond makes his way over to the silver haired teen. Ventus is forced to quickly hobble over to the three men.

“Riku, get up, we have to get out of here before Heartless start swarming. We’ve been here too long.”

Ven gets the feeling that the blond doesn’t talk much and he wonders briefly what a ‘Heartless’ is. He doesn’t ask, though, as another feeling of weakness washes over him.

The brunet holding him up glances at him before glaring down at the man on the floor. The scar makes him rather intimidating, but no more than that creep Braig had been. That line of thought traces back to his friends. Where were they? They’d been fighting in the Graveyard when Vanitas had –

A dark feeling washes over him and he looks over to find shadows morphing into solid beings across the clearing. Glowing yellow eyes stare at him, lifeless and cold, as the little Unversed-esque monster shuffles for a bit as more form up behind him.

“What are those?!” Ven asks, slightly worried that Vanitas is still creating the Unversed.

Had he failed? Had Terra and Aqua failed?

The tall blond curses and Ventus looks down to where he is, kneeling beside the silver haired boy. He’s shocked to find teal eyes glaring up at him with murderous intent. What had he done to this man?

“Riku, we need to leave.” The silver haired man, Riku, doesn’t move from his spot.

“Do you want to run the risk of Sora being carted off to the Darkness because of you?”

That murderous stare is directed to the blond man before the silver haired man stands with the sleeping brunet still in his arms. He barely has time to register the brunet tugging him along before the five – four? – of them are hustling along through a canyon he’s never seen before.

The pace, while faster than a casual walk, should be no problem for Ventus. He knows that, but apparently his body hadn’t gotten the memo. He’s winded, dizzy, and he feels like he’s about to throw up.

That dark feeling reappears behind him, so he looks. Those shadows are gathering again and trailing after them, as if they’re testing how close they can get to their little group.

Ven wouldn’t guess very close, judging by the large sword the blond leading them has strapped to his back. He turns his head back around, only he must have done it too fast or maybe their pace finally catches up to his fatigued body, and he’s falling to the floor.

He blacks out before he can even make it all the way down .

Chapter Text

When Ventus wakes up, it’s much easier this time around. There’s no harsh sunlight or loud noises. Instead of hard, cold ground he’s in a soft bed with blankets to keep him warm.

There is, however, another stranger shuffling around the room. A brunette woman in a light pink dress is playing around with something on the dresser in the corner.

The blond sits up and she turns around.

“Oh, good. You’re up. We were afraid you’d be out for a while.” She has a soft, monotone voice which brings him a sense of comfort somehow.

“How long was I asleep? Where are the people who found me?”

Who were the people who found me? He wants to ask, but doesn’t.

“They’re in the main room. Are you hungry? Thirsty?” She asks him, coming over and checking him over.

He recognized that she’s trying to make sure he doesn’t have a concussion or anything of the sort. He’d seen Aqua do it to Terra plenty of times.

“Yeah. Starving, actually.” He flips the blankets off of himself.

He’d slept in the clothes on him, so there was no delay for him to change and the brunette – who introduces herself as Aerith when he offers his own name – leads him to a large, round room. Inside sits the two men who had been there when he’d woken up as well as a black haired girl, who is arguing with one of them violently.

“There has to be something we can do!” The girl screeches, looking beyond angry with tousled hair and red eyes.

“I’d like to think so, but I have no idea what that could be! Quit taking it out on me!” The brunet man screams as Aerith whispers that she’ll bring him something to eat and drink.

“I’LL TAKE IT OUT ON WHOEVER I WANT!” She yells again, her voice going shrill and she looks like she might start crying. Again.

The man with the scar snarls something Ventus can’t catch all of the way across the room.

The taller blond in the room meets his gaze and nods his head in greeting, seemingly the only person in the room besides himself who isn’t affected. Or perhaps he’s just got a really good poker face.

“I DON’T CARE! WE SHOULD BE OUT LOOKING FOR SOMETHING! SEND WORD TO THE KING! FIND MASTER SOMEONE WHO CAN HELP! SOMETHING!”

“WE CAN’T JUST GO GALLAVANTING AROUND WITHOUT A PLAN!” The man with the scar snarls again, slamming his hands on to table in front of where he’s standing.

“CID HAS SPARE GUMMI SHIPS! SOMEONE COULD GO OUT AND -”

“WHO’S GOING TO GO? YOU?”

“IF I HAVE TO!” She’s pacing around in circles.

Aerith comes in as the scarred man is readying to fire back a retort, “Enough! Both of you! We have a guest.” Ven is startled by the conviction in her voice, despite the fact that it never changes from its monotone pattern.

She sets the small tray she’s holding onto the table and waves him over. Ven, feeling awkward for being the reason the fighting was interrupted, shuffles in his spot a bit before ambling forward and sitting in the seat.

“I’m sorry, it’s very simple. It was all we have on hand that wouldn’t require cooking and you looked starving.”

It’s a form of soup in a bowl. Kind of. It’s warm and lumpy, but it smells amazing with hints of cinnamon so he takes a small bite.

It’s rather good so he continues eating after mumbling a thank you to Aerith; Master Eraqus taught him better than to be rude. He wants to inhale all of it right now, but knows that he’d make himself sick and would waste perfectly good food by throwing it up, so he paces himself.

“Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?” The calmer man asks.

Swallowing the bite in his mouth, he answers, “Of course...” He trails off waiting for someone to offer a name.

“Oh, right.” Aerith seems to remember that he doesn’t know anyone, “These are my friends, Yuffie,” the only other girl in the room, “Leon,” the man with the scar, “and Cloud,” the blond man.

“I’m Ventus, but you can call me Ven. It’s very nice to meet you all.” Which seems to be the wrong thing to say, because Yuffie storms out of the room.

“Pardon her, she’s just upset. Do you know why you were in that canyon?”

Ven shakes his head around another bite.

“How do you know Sora?” Leon asks, sounding rather upset from his fight still.

Confused, Ven asks, “Who’s Sora?”

“The brunet from the clearing.” Cloud supplies.

“I’ve never seen him before. Is he okay?” Ven asks, worried where this is going.

There’s a collective moment of silence before someone speaks up behind them, “He’s dead.”

Turning around, Ventus finds Riku – or, that’s what Ven thinks his name is – standing in the open doorway, looking like he might go on a murdering spree. With him as the first victim.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” He does. It’s always sad to lose a friend.

But that’s the wrong thing to say, too, apparently because Riku’s glare deepens and he snarls out, “You should be!”

Ven flinches at the sheer amount of venom in his voice.

“Riku!” Aerith chastises him.

Riku just sneers at him before crossing the room and exiting out the door Yuffie had stormed through.

“Where are you going?” Leon asks, voice carrying through the open door and into the hallways.

“FOR A WALK, IS THAT ALRIGHT WITH YOU?!” Is the hateful response.

Ven sinks in his chair. Had he done something? Had he hurt Sora?

“Don’t listen to Riku. We know you had nothing to do with what happened to Sora.”

“What happened?” Ven wants to kick himself the second the question is out of his mouth.

“Sora released his heart. Or, that’s what Riku told us. We don’t know why.” Leon sits down at the table and leans his elbows on it.

“Oh.” Ventus pushes away his mostly eaten warm not-soup, no longer hungry.

Why was Riku blaming him, then?

“What’s the last thing you remember before waking up in the Canyon?” Leon asks, breaking him out of his thoughts.

Ventus knows he can’t tell any off-worlders – or technically, other-worlders because he is the off-worlder – about the X-Blade or the Keyblades in general. He probably shouldn’t mention Xehanort or the Unversed.

“What were those shadow things?” He asks instead of answering.

His question shocks the other occupants of the room. Even the so-far stoic Cloud.

“Those were Heartless. Have they not…” Leon trails off, lacing his hands together and resting his chin on them.

“What are ‘Heartless’?” Ven folds his legs up onto the chair.

“Where to start?”

Aerith lets out a small laugh, devoid of any real humor, “Sora would probably be the best to explain that.”

“Probably.” Cloud mentions from his place against the wall.

“A Heartless is the result of a person’s heart being swallowed by darkness. Their heart becomes a Heartless and their body becomes a Nobody. You didn’t see one of those, don’t be too confused. How haven’t you run into them before? They’ve been around for years.”

Ventus shrugs, not really sure himself. He’d faced plenty of Unversed before, but the first time he’d ever seen a Heartless was in the clearing.

“You avoided my question.”

“Which one?”

“What do you remember last? Before the canyon?” Leon is looking at him a bit suspiciously.

“Well,” He decides to go with the truth. Mostly, “I was looking for my best friend Terra. Aqua was worried about me and was following both of us, trying to convince me to leave the search to her and to go home. I couldn’t do that. We all met up and…” Ven groans as a headache slams into him and he starts seeing memories.

Memories of himself and Aqua staring him down. Were these Vanitas’ memories? Panic rushes through him and he brings his hands up, digging the balls of his hands into his eyes.

He can’t…he didn’t fuse with Vanitas! He didn’t! He made sure! He tore his heart in two to make sure this wouldn’t happen!

Hey, can you hear me?!

That voice, so young.

Are you sad?

Why would it ask that?

Sure, if it’ll make you feel better.

What was the kid agreeing to? That wasn’t him, so who was it?

What was being asked?

Can I stay here? With you? His own voice rings back to him, providing the question.

He’d stayed with someone? When had he done that?

“Ventus!” His head snaps up to find three concerned stares.

“You okay? You weren’t responding for a bit.” Aerith asks, looking concerned.

Was he okay?

“Can I go get some fresh air?” He asks, feeling shaken.

When did that happen? He asks himself.

“Don’t go too far from the castle and you should be fine.” Cloud tells him.

“Do you need someone to accompany you?”

Ventus shakes his head, standing from his chair after unfolding his legs.

As he gets to the door he remembers to ask, “Where am I?”

Not seeming shocked at the question at all, Aerith tells him, “You’re in Hallow Bastion.”

He leaves out the door he’d seen Riku leave through after a nod of thanks. His mind continues to go around in circles as he lets himself walk around on auto.

***

“He’s hiding something.” Cloud intones the second Ventus is out of earshot.

“How can you know that?” Aerith glares at the blond.

Leon agrees, but he’ll see where this is going.

“He wasn’t telling the truth. At least not all of it.”

“What are you thinking?” Leon asks, looking up and back at the blond.

“Not sure yet.” Cloud murmurs, “But I’m concerned about his lack of knowledge about Heartless. Most people at least know what they are on sight. Maybe not the name, but the image.”

“He also didn’t seem all that perturbed by them. Like he’s seen something similar.”

“If he’s seen them, he’s lying about it.”

“Why would he do that?” Aerith asks, looking genuinely curious.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be brought into it?” Leon questions, standing up and facing Cloud.

“I’m still placing money on hiding something.” The blond shrugs, saying it’s no big deal.

“Perhaps. Perhaps it’s both.” Leon cocks his head to the side and closes his eyes, letting himself think.

When he opens his eyes back up, Cloud looks as if he’s seen a ghost. And he hadn’t looked like that when he’d faced Sephiroth, so Leon is instantly on guard.

Leon turns around and what he sees shocks him. He thinks his face has to look just like Clouds’.

***

Riku doesn’t know what’s gotten into him. He’s always had something to be angry about but he’s never had this hard of a time controlling it. But hearing that Ventus had no idea who Sora even was had sent his rage flying to the surface.

He was ashamed of how he had snapped at Ventus, but…

Sora had killed himself to release Ventus’ heart. And the blond had no idea who Sora even was. Sora had left him behind again for someone he didn’t know.

Sora had left him. Again.

The anger had washed away almost an hour ago and had left him with a crippling sadness. How was he supposed to go on if Sora was dead? How was he supposed to go on without the brunet by his side?

He can feel the darkness inside him stirring, as if waiting for him to give in.

He won’t. He can’t. Sora would be disappointed in him if he gave in again. Or he would be if he were alive still.

He’s making his way back towards the Hallow Bastion Castle, about halfway up the stairs, when he sees Ventus running down the stairs and onto the platform ahead of Riku. He doesn’t stop when he nears the edge and a spark of panic rushes through Riku when the blond jumps up onto the ledge, nearly tipping over and falling down the near hundred foot gap between the ledge and the city below.

Riku rushes forward and grabs Ventus’ shirt as he’s righting himself on the ledge and pulls him down. The blond lets out a squeak – or something similar – and he falls back onto the safety of solid ground beside Riku on the right side of the railing.

“What is wrong with you?! You could have fallen off! That’s over a hundred foot drop, you idiot!” Riku finds himself yelling at the blond.

The first thing that had run through his head was that Sora’s sacrifice was going to be for nothing after all. That thought scared him more than Ansem ever had. To live in a world where there was no Sora for absolutely no good reason sounded like Riku’s personal hell.

The blond looks scared of him so Riku tries to calm himself.

“The others…in the castle…they said this place was called Hallow Bastion. Is that right?” The blond looks out over the railing at the view supplied from the little terrace.

“Yeah, what about it?” Riku finds that he can’t really reign in the anger and resentment he feels.

“But it looks just like…” he hears the blond trail off.

Confused, Riku looks out at the view as well, trying to see whatever Ventus is staring at.

“It looks like where?” Riku asks.

“I visited a place called Radiant Garden a while back…it looked just like this place only…lighter…I guess that’d be the best way to describe the difference.”

“This is Radiant Garden. A few years back it got overrun by darkness so they renamed it.” Riku has to force the words to come out neutral, but they end up coming out strained.

“That can’t be right, I was just here!” Ventus looks distressed and Riku feels bad for him. He’s probably as disoriented as he was when he found himself outside of Destiny Islands for the first time.

“I don’t know how that’s possible, but it’s the truth.”

They spend a few minutes in silence before Ventus turns to look at him.

“Was this your home? Before the darkness got it?”

“No.”

“Where are you from? And the others?”

“I don’t know about the others but I’m not from around here.”

“Where are you from?” Ventus asks again and it makes Riku rather upset.

He hadn’t answered for a reason. He didn’t want to think about the island. Or the fact that he was going to have to bring Sora back. Dead.

Kairi’s going to be devastated, Riku thinks to himself, I’m going to have to tell Sora’s mom that I failed.

“I’m from another world.” He blurts out, not particularly thinking about it.

Ventus’ silence makes him think about what he said.

“Damnit,” he mutters to himself, pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to fend off a headache.

“You know about other worlds?” Ventus asks, sounding astonished and a bit wary.

“Of course I know about other worlds,” he looks up, “How do you know about other worlds?”

“I travelled to a few of them while looking for my friend Terra.”

“How did you get between worlds?” Riku’s curiosity can’t take a back seat here.

Ventus shrugs, looking suddenly uncomfortable with the topic.

“Don’t avoid the subject.”

“Well,” Ven looks to be debating something before nodding – probably to himself – and continuing, “I used my Glider to travel the Lanes Between.”

“Riku!” Both boys turn to find Aerith running down the steps, looking slightly frantic.

“What’s wrong?”

Panting, she stops before them, “You have to come quick; it’s Sora!”

 

 

Chapter Text

To say that Ventus had been unsurprised when Riku shot off like a rocket at the mere mention of Sora’s name would be a gross understatement. To say that he’d been unsurprised when he’d run after Riku would be a lie.

Though, Ven had to admit that Riku is surprisingly fast. Ventus had always been proud to say he was the fastest of his friends, but he’d spent an unknown amount of time asleep if he were to believe everyone’s story. Or guesses, more like. No one knew exactly what had happened to him or his friends.

By the time he catches up to Riku in that main hall room, the silver haired man is simply standing in the doorway, unmoving. The doorway is large enough that when Ventus comes to a stop behind Riku he can simply peer around him to find what has stopped him.

The sight stops Ventus as well.

Sora is standing in the center of the room, staring at Riku like he doesn’t know if he’s real. Riku takes a shaking step forwards before taking another and another until he’s standing right in front of Sora.

Aerith walks past him, into the room, looking a mix between concerned and relieved and Ventus follows her. Farther into the room, he gets a clear view as Riku, looking completely raddled, he reaches up and grabs Sora’s face in his hands.

“Riku?” Sora asks, sounding worried when the silver haired teen doesn’t do anything.

Riku opens his mouth a few times, trying to get words to come out, but he can’t seem to form a sentence. He looks as if he might start crying and Ven’s mind supplies him with the image of Riku holding Sora in the clearing. He’d been devastated. He can only imagine how relieved Riku must feel now that Sora is awake.

Or not dead. That would be the better descriptor since the others had thought he was deceased.

“Riku, you’re scaring me.”

That snaps Riku out of his trance and he shakes Sora really hard a few times before yelling.

“GOOD! Do you have any idea how devastated I was when you released your heart?! AGAIN?! Damnit, Sora, do you have ANY self-preservation instincts at all?!”

As Riku continues to shout at Sora, Ven decides that Riku is a terrifying person. But his voice conveys concern here when it had not earlier. Sora must be someone special, indeed.

Aerith chuckles beside him, low and subtle, and Ven gives her a questioning look.

“Sora and Riku are very close, don’t you agree?”

Ven smiles and nods, glad that it’s not just him that thinks so. But seeing Riku yell at Sora like this makes him think of Terra. Of what could have happened to him. Of what could have happened to Aqua. Were his friends alright? How long had he been gone from the worlds?

Are they even alive?

***

When Riku pulls him close and hugs him tight, Sora doesn’t know how to respond. Which is highly ridiculous because at one point he’d fallen to his knees and cried like a baby in front of Riku out of relief alone. But this feels…different.

He knows what to do whenever Riku yells at him. He knows what to do if Riku lectures him. But physical affection? That was never Riku’s forte and the silver haired boy rarely accepts physical touch.

So Sora settles for the safe bet and sets his hands on Riku’s arms, trying to console him in some way. He hadn’t meant to worry Riku, it had just been…second nature, almost, to give everything for someone else.

Sora lets his eyes drift shut and he leans his head against Riku’s, which lays buried in Sora’s neck as the taller boy cries softly. Riku pulls away and Sora lets him, knowing it had taken a lot to show that much emotion in front of an entire room full of people.

“Feeling better?” Sora asks.

“A bit, yeah.” Riku runs his hands through his hair and subtly wipes his face so it’s free of tears, “Still upset with you, though.”

Sora smiles and tilts his head to the side, “Fair enough.”

Then there’s some silence. It’s not necessarily awkward, but it’s in no way comfortable. Sora scratches the back of his head as he realizes everyone except Ventus left the room at one point.

That’s when Sora notices that Ven is just standing there, lost in thought. Ven, who looks like Roxas in so many ways but he’s not quite…right. Or the same, he should say.

“Hi.” Sora walks the few steps over to Ven and holds out his hand, “I’m Sora.”

Ven snaps out of his thoughts and gives Sora a smile. “I know. I’m Ventus, but… you can call me Ven.”

“It’s nice to finally talk to you.”

Ventus chuckles, “Nice to meet you, too.”

“Can I ask you something?” Sora tilts his head to the side.

“Sure. I’ll answer best I can.”

“Um,” Sora looks to the side before plowing forward, “What happened? To you. And your friends.”

“My friends?” Ven looks at him, a bit confused.

“The nice woman and the older guy. I don’t know their names, but they seemed pretty close to you.”

“How do you know Aqua and Terra? Do you know where they are?”

The look on Ventus’ face is one of which Sora is painfully aware. He’s worn that expression many times, when he was so close to finding his friends. Full of worry and hope.

“No. I’m sorry. I don’t know them. I mean, the girl – Aqua, I think – seemed familiar, but I’ve never met them. I was seeing them through your memories. I just – sorry, I guess I shouldn’t have asked.” He scratches the bridge of his nose with one finger.

Ven sighs, “It’s fine, don’t worry. I was just…hoping you might be able to tell me what happened to them.”

“Sorry. I’ll let you know if I find them or anything about them.”

He knows he’d want his friends to do the same if it were him. It had been so nerve-wracking, not knowing where Riku and Kairi were.

“Oh no.” He utters, horrified.

“What?” Riku looks at him like he’s being weird again.

“Where’s Kairi?” Riku looks at him for a few seconds before running his hands down his face.

Fuck. I left her on the island. She’s waiting for me to come get her.”

“You left Kairi on the island?”

“Don’t start with me, Sora, you left me AND Kairi on the island!”

Sora gets a bit indignant, “Well, yeah, but that wasn’t my fault!”

“You’re the one who left.”

“Yeah, but it was Ventus’ fault, he was the one guiding me, he’s the one who showed me that-that thing!” Sora thinks about it, “How did you get here?”

“I copied you.” Riku crosses his arms and looks proud, if only for a second.

Sora’s kind of jealous. He never would have been able to figure it out on his own. But he’s happy that Riku had gotten it and that he’s rightfully proud of himself. It doesn’t happen often.

“We should probably go get Kairi. She’s probably mad that we left without her.”

“No, she’s mad at you. We made a deal that I would come find you and then come back to get her. She’s supposed to be trying to copy what we did, but I don’t know if she’s gotten it down yet.”

“If you’d like, I could go with you, teach her how. If she hasn’t gotten it down.”

Riku looks a bit sceptic, “You can teach her?”

“You guys are talking about a Keyblade Glider, right? It’s not that hard to get down if you’ve got someone to teach you.”

“So the three of us can go to the island and grab Kairi. Then what, we come back here?”

“Well, coming back here would be the best bet, and I’m fairly certain Kairi would like to see other worlds when she’s not being held captive. But that presents a problem.”

Riku looks at Sora, “Are you feeling up to travelling?”

“No, actually. I’m feeling a little weak.”

“Then you should stay here, get your strength back. Maybe start training some.”

“Yeah, sounds like a good idea.”

Chapter Text

“And you promise you’ll stay here?” Riku asks again, worrying.

Yes, Riku. I’ll stay here, in Hollow Bastion, with Leon and the others.” Sora grins, as if amused by Riku’s actions.

“Promise me. Cross your heart.”

Sora rolls his eyes, but his smile doesn’t leave as he crosses his heart and repeats his promise. Ven waits patiently a few feet away, and Riku has found out that he’s an awful lot like Sora. It makes him feel kind of mad and kind of guilty for snapping at him so much.

He should probably apologize to him like he had to Leon and the others in the castle.

“I’m serious, Sora.”

“So am I. Go get Kairi. I’ll be better by the time you get back.” Sora smiles at him, and Riku has to resist the urge to kiss him.

“Right. Ready to go, Ventus?”

“Lead the way.” He grins before bumping his fist against his shoulder plate, and in a flash he’s covered in blue and gold armor.

“Whoa,” Sora says, clearly in awe. “Did I look like that?”

Riku shakes his head, “Yours looked different. It was gold and bronze. A bit bulkier, too.”

“What does your armor look like?”

Riku shrugs, “White and black, I think. I’ve never seen myself in a mirror while in it.”

Riku doesn’t have any armor to tap and activate his suit, so it takes a bit of concentration to summon it into existence. Once he dons the armor, he sees Sora staring at him with admiration.

Ventus walks over. Even though it’s hard to hear with two helmets in the way, he hears Ven say, “Wow, you’re a natural. You don’t even need a conduit.”

Sora laughs and pats him on the shoulder, “That’s Riku. Always so talented at everything.”

Riku can feel himself blushing a bit, and he’s thankful for the helmet blocking Sora’s view.

Shaking his head, he summons Way to Dawn and tosses it into the air at the same time as Ventus. Riku notices that Ventus’ Glider – that’s what he’d called it – is different than Sora’s, if only slightly. Ven’s is gray with wing like extensions coming out of the back and a large point on the front. Sora’s was silver with gold wings lining the entire board, if he remembered correctly.

His own Glider looks nothing like Sora’s or Ventus’ Gliders. His own is like a bike, or that was the closest comparison he could come up with in his mind.

****

Sora watches as Riku summons his Glider and he gets a bad feeling in his chest. Like…being hollow and broken. The brunet shakes his head and waves to Riku and Ventus as they take off into the sky.

He wishes he could go, too, but he’d been telling the truth when he’d said he’d been feeling off. Not bad, or sick. Just off.

And that feeling grows as Riku races into the sky on his Glider.

His vision swims and he panics for a split second. The last thing he sees after Riku and Ventus disappear through the portal is the ground as he falls forward.

****

It’s easy enough to follow Riku to Destiny Island. When they land, Ven almost loses his balance as he hits the sandy beach. Riku lands expertly, showing his years of practice.

Ven looks around, slightly disappointed when he doesn’t see a village or anything resembling a town. All he sees are foreign, funny-looking trees and a large cliff side.

“Is that a giant star on the cliff over there?” He asks, pointing to the aforementioned star.

“Yeah. Sora and I used it to race. First one there and back won.”

“Oh.” Ven nods, wishing the silence wasn’t so awkward.

“Sorry about landing so far out; I’ve only ever landed once before.” Riku says as he starts off in a seemingly random direction.

“Don’t worry about it. It takes a few tries to get used to.” Ven chirps, following behind.

Then the awkward silence settles back in as they make their way around the cliff wall and up a small ledge. They’re making their way over a wooden bridge when Riku stops and turns to him.

“I, uh… I’m…sorry.” Riku looks ashamed and embarrassed, and Ven can tell it’s taking Riku a lot just to tell him that.

“It’s fine. I understand completely.”

“It’s not fine. Even distressed, I had no right to take it out on you. It wasn’t your fault.”

“No, but you needed a boogeyman. It’s fine. I get it. I wish I knew who to blame for Terra and Aqua going missing.”

“Why don’t you go home and see if they’re there?” Riku suggests.

He had thought about it. His head drops, and he stares at his hands.

“I’m afraid, I guess. I…I don’t’ want to get there and…have them -”

“Not be there?”

“Yeah.”

Riku sighs, “I know that feeling.”

Ven looks up at Riku’s face and sees the melancholy and longing in them. He’s obviously felt what Ventus is feeling.

“How did it work out for you?”

Riku smiles, but he’s not really looking at the ocean like it appears, and Ven guesses he’s thinking about it.

“It was Sora. He’d been looking for me the entire time I was gone. The doofus dropped to his knees the minute he found me and started crying like a baby.” The look on Riku’s face looks so affectionate and Ven begins to suspect Riku’s relationship with Sora runs far deeper than friendship.

“RIKU!” The yell snaps both men out of their thoughts and their heads whip over to the doorway they’d been headed to.

There stands a red haired girl, waving her hands in an enthusiastic wave.

Riku smiles, but it’s more like a small smirk, and makes his way over to her.

“Hey, Kairi.” The girl hugs Riku, and the other man seems a bit put off.

“Well at least you came back for me.”

“You figure it out?” Kairi shakes her head.

“I only had two days, Riku. You had five, give me a break.” She teases, but then sobers. “Besides, I…”

“What’s wrong Kairi?”

“I’d rather talk to Sora about it, really.”

“Is it about Naminé?”

Ven wonders who Naminé is and tries to follow the conversation.

“Yes. She…I haven’t been able to talk to her for almost two days now.”

“Did you talk to her that often?”

The red head looks reluctant to reply, “Yes.”

Ventus pipes up, “Why don’t you just go visit her?”

She seems to realize he’s there, and the look she gives him ranges between bewildered and scared.

“Roxas?!”

“Ventus, actually.” Riku supplies, “Which brings up another point.”

“Don’t tell me Sora did something stupid and he’s got another Nobody.” She looks absolutely done with the idea before she’s even fully done voicing it.

“Yes and no. Ven’s heart was sleeping inside Sora, so what does Sora do?”

Kairi groans and runs a hand down her face, “He released his heart.”

“Jackpot. But, bright side. He’s okay. Somehow.

“He’s okay?”

“Yeah, he was fine when we left. Anyway, Ven here is a Keyblade wielder, he offered to give you a run-down of how the Keyblade Glider works since I have no clue.”

Kairi looks at him, intrigued, “Oh, thank you. We can go to the little island, it’s where I’ve been practicing for now.”

She leads them through the door she’d arrived through and Ventus recognizes this part of the island as vaguely familiar.

“I think I’ve been here before.” He says.

“That might be because of Sora.” Riku suggests.

Ventus brushes it off as such and follows Kairi up onto a bridge and then a small island.

****

“So you guys live here? Where are your houses?” Ven asks.

Kairi chuckles and points over to the main Island, “This is our play island. We come here after school – which some of us still attend – and goof off until it’s time to go home.”

Ven smiles, and she’s reminded of Sora and Roxas at the same time. And she worries a bit more as she doesn’t feel a painful ache as she thinks of Sora’s Nobody. Naminé had felt such a connection to Roxas. They’d both known nothing of who they were. They’d both been so lost and so full of questions.

“So, who’s Naminé?” Ven asks.

“She’s my Nobody. But it’s complicated. I have no darkness in my heart, so it was kind of like a joint Nobody with Sora.” She chuckles, but stops at Ventus’ lost look.

“What’s a Nobody?”

So Kairi explains to Ventus what Nobodies are while he shows her how to easily summon her Keyblade and then her Glider. The latter process takes two and a half days, what with her obligations in town as the Mayor’s child and school.

By the time she gets it, she’s more than ready to get off this island and find Sora and some answers for Naminé’s silence.

Chapter Text

Riku lands in Hollow Bastion beside Ventus and Kairi with little effort. He’s anxious to see Sora again but he keeps up with Ven and Kairi’s leisurely pace as the three of them make their way towards the castle.

Speaking of Ven and Kairi, the two seem to have become fast friends. Kairi has spent most of her time with Ven talking about Keyblades and Gliders and other worlds he’s been to and Ventus is all too happy to recite some of his adventures.

Adventures that Riku had heard as well. Stories about chasing after his friend, Terra, conflicts with another friend, Aqua, and his old Master, Eraqus, and his struggles with a masked boy named Vanitas. He’d been more reluctant to talk about the last one, trying to skirt around it, and Kairi had been more than willing to let it go in favor of hearing about her fellow Princesses of Heart.

Riku was incredibly curious, though. Ventus’ demeanor had changed completely. One minute he had been a cheery, open boy and the next moment he looked like a war veteran trying to avoid being drawn back into the past.

They’re making their way back through the maze that leads to the inner working of the castle when they come across an angry looking Yuffie.

Ven instantly stops and asks, “Yuffie, what’s wrong?”

Yuffie glares at the floor, “Sora did a one eighty, and that stupid jerk-butt is just-” She cuts herself off and storms off.

Riku had stopped listening after the words ‘Sora did a one eighty’ were uttered. He quickly makes his way farther into the castle. When he bursts into the common room in the castle, he quickly spots Sora asleep on a couch – someone must have pulled it in so they could keep an eye on Sora constantly – but otherwise unharmed.

Riku quickly makes his way over to Sora and checks for a pulse. He’s relieved to find one this time. He registers Kairi entering the room in the back of his mind, but his main thought process is trying to figure out why Sora had passed out and when.

“Oh, Sora, you lazy bum. I should have known I’d find you snoozing here.” Kairi whispers, saddened, as she kneels beside the couch and cards her hand through Sora’s wild spikes.

The door on the other side of the room opens, but Riku and Kairi don’t look up from their childhood friend.

“I see you’re back.” Leon calls.

“What happened to Sora?”

“We don’t know.”

“Who found him?” Kairi asks next.

“That’d be me, actually.” The voice makes Riku pause and in his peripheral vision he can see Kairi tensing up.

Riku turns around to find the source of the voice he’d only semi-recognized. Axel is leaning against one of the console boards with his arms crossed over his chest and a smug expression on his face.

“You.” Kairi accuses, as if Axel’s existence is crime enough.

“You’re welcome, by the way.” He raises an eyebrow, “Sora was unconscious and Heartless were gathering when I found him.”

“Why help him?” Riku asks, knowing this wouldn’t be the first time.

“How are you alive?” Kairi asks from beside him and Riku thinks her question is more important.

Axel shrugs, as if it answers both questions unequivocally.

“When did you find him?”

“Friday,” Is Leon’s curt reply, “Right after you two left.”

“He’s been unconscious for two and a half days?!” Kairi freaks.

Leon shakes his head, “Almost three for us.”

Riku wants to ask if they have any ideas as to why Sora passed out but Ventus walks in with, a much calmer, Yuffie and Riku thinks that has to be trippy for Axel.

****

“Is Sora okay?” Ven asks, walking over to Riku and Kairi who are kneeling beside Sora on a new couch.

“Alive, but unconscious.” Riku answers, glancing away for a second before focusing on Sora again.

“Axel, this is-” Kairi starts talking but a voice from the other side of the room interrupts.

“Roxas?”

Ven looks over and sees a tall, lean man with vibrant red hair and green eyes looking at him like he’s seen a ghost. The name was obviously directed at him and Kairi had once used the same name when they’d first met. Does he really look like this Roxas person?

Ven furrows his eyebrows in confusion and he tilts his head, “Who’s Roxas?”

“This is Ventus. Sora found him a while ago and woke him up. We think he’s been sleeping for a while.” Ventus, this is Axel –“

“It’s Lea, actually.” The redhead interrupts, not looking away from Ventus and it creeps the blond out a bit.

“What happened to ‘It’s Axel. A-X-E-L, Got it memorized?’”

“I’m human again, so I’m using my human name. It’s Lea now.”

The name sounds familiar but when Ventus tries to think of where he knows the name from, all he can imagine is a kid his own age with red hair and vibrant green eyes.

Could they be the same person? He has a similar manner of speaking – from what he’s heard – and they do look similar, the man in front of him just looks older.

Ventus panics. How long had he been asleep before Sora had found him?

“Wait a minute. Lea? From Radiant Garden?”

Axel – or Lea – whips his head back to Ven with shocked eyes.

“About this tall,” He holds up his hand to the right height, “best friends with a guy named Isa?!”

He stands up, looking absolutely thrilled, “Yes.”

Ventus starts freaking out, “There’s no way you’re Lea! I met him -” He stops. How long ago had he seen Lea? How long has it been for him? How long has it really been?

Sora groans from his spot on the couch and suddenly his conversation with Lea is put on hold as Sora opens his eyes. But they look…off. Lifeless, like there’s no one behind them.

“Sora?” Riku asks, looking passive save for his eyes. He eyes scream of fear.

Sora looks at Riku but doesn’t respond to his name being called. He doesn’t even look like he recognizes Riku at all.

“Sora?” Kairi calls.

Sora looks at her as well, but she gets the same response.

“Maybe Sora lost his memories and has no idea who you are.” ‘Lea’ laughs.

Ventus feels a bit of rage flow through him. What a horrible thing to suggest, even if it were to turn out to be the truth. He wants to yell at Lea, make him apologize, but he catches a glimpse of Riku and his heart breaks for him.

Riku looks full blown petrified of the idea and Ven feels even more anger towards the male red head. The Lea he knew – even for that short time – had been friendly, nice, and caring.

“Sora, do you know who I am?” Riku asks, grabbing onto Sora’s hand.

Sora blinks a few times and his eyebrows furrow, “Riku?”

Sora sits up, not letting go of Riku’s hand – Ventus can see the relief that overcomes Riku – and the brunet rubs at his eyes.

“When did you get back?”

Riku chuckles, “Just now.”

“Kairi?” Sora asks, looking around.

“Hey, Sora. You feeling okay?”

Sora looks at her confused but nods. Ven’s shocked when she punches him in the arm.

“You left! We made this deal to work it out together and you LEFT!”

Sora rubs his arm and quickly scoots behind Riku, “I’m sorry! I just couldn’t take the nagging anymore!”

Kairi deflates and nods, “You can’t keep running off and then get mad at us when we want to do things on our own. If you want us to face things together, we have to face things together, Sora.”

Sora hangs his head in shame, but nods, “Right.”

It’s silent for a minute before Sora looks up in confusion, “Wait, how did I get here?”

“That would be me.” Lea calls from his spot by the console.

Sora stares at him in shock for a bit before standing up.

“Axel?”

“It’s Lea now, but yeah, it’s-” Lea stops talking when Sora hugs him tightly, though it’s actually more like a tackle.

“You’re alive!” Sora chirps, sounding ecstatic.

Lea adopts a somber and melancholy look, “Yeah. It’s good to see you, too, Sora.” He pats his head a few times before Sora lets go of him.

“Sorry about that!” He laughs.

“No problem, Sora.” He’s silent for a moment, “How’s Roxas?”

And suddenly, Ven’s heart is bleeding for Lea because the pain and longing on his face as he asks such a simple question should not exist.

Who’s this Roxas person and where is he?

“Oh. Uh.” Sora looks perturbed, “I…I can’t reach him.”

****

Lea wants to rip his heart right out of his chest. Ever since he’s woken up with it, it’s done absolutely nothing but race from one emotion to the next and it’s never a mild feeling. It’s going a hundred miles an hour and it’s not even slowing down to turn and change emotions.

“I haven’t been able to reach Naminé in a while, either.” He hears Kairi confess.

And really, he couldn’t care less about the witch. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do now. He’d been counting on finding Sora and then finding a way to free Roxas with the help of Ienzo and the others.

I should probably mention that, he thinks to himself.

“By the way,” he interrupts at the first silence he finds, “I’m not the only Organization member to wake up whole. There are a few more in one of the labs trying to find out why we’re alive.”

“Like who?” Riku asks, sounding upset.

“Please don’t let it be Marluxia.” Sora groans and Lea finds himself amused.

He hadn’t liked Marluxia any more than Sora had. Then he thinks about it.

“How do you know who Marluxia is? I though Naminé fixed your memories so you wouldn’t remember anything about Castle Oblivion.”

“I got all of my memories back when Roxas and I merged completely in The World That Never Was.”

Lea nods, a bit upset, “Anyway, no. From what I know, it’s just Ienzo, Aeleus, Even, Dilan, and myself.”

At the blank stares, he reiterates, “Zexion, Lexaeus, Vexen, Xaldin, and myself.”

Sora and Riku utter a small ‘ah’ together and Lea thinks it’s ridiculous how in sync the two can be. Then again, he’d been like that with Roxas sometimes.

Chapter Text

“Riku, I’m fine! I can-”

“You’re not going with me, Sora.” Riku snaps, “End of discussion.”

Riku turns to leave with Yuffie – who is standing by the door, looking very uncomfortable – but Sora grabs Riku’s arm.

Not the end of this discussion. You can’t just decide something like that.”

“When it comes to your safety, I can. Kairi’s with me on this! If you drop in the middle of a fight that isn’t a training session, what happens? One of us is left to defend you and get you back. That’s putting two people in danger with one of them being you.”

“Don’t drag me into this.” Kairi places her hands in the air and shrugs, as if trying to pull out of the argument. “He is right, though, Sora.”

Sora wants to scream.

“Fine.” He crosses his arms, “Have fun.”

Riku gives him a look but nods and leaves with Yuffie.

Kairi and Riku had decided that him doing anything but training would be disastrous. Cloud and the others had agreed, too.

Sora understands the decision, but that doesn’t stop him from being hurt. He just wants to help and he hates feeling useless.

But he’d had trouble with easy heartless and Xehanort had given him a world of trouble in the short fight they’d had. He’d have been dead twice over had Riku not shown up.

“Sora, don’t get too upset, we’re just worried about you.” Kairi pipes up behind him.

“I know.” He mumbles.

“We can always go train, like we said. We could all use some real practice.”

Sora looks up at Kairi and smiles.

“Sounds good.”

Sora follows her out of the castle towards the open foyer that Cloud and Leon are likely in. He lets his thoughts drift off. He’s so out of it he’s shocked when Kairi waves her hand right in front of Sora’s face. The brunet almost throws himself off balance backing away.

“Did you hear a word I just said?” Kairi glares at him.

“No, sorry. What were you saying?”

Her expression softens, “I want to apologize.”

“For what?”

“For…for saying all of those hurtful things. I guess I never thought you’d be hurt or offended. I promise to never, ever say anything like that again. I’ll pick my words more carefully.”

She looks like a kicked puppy and Sora gives her a light smile, “I know, Kairi.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Kairi asks as they continue to make their way to the open foyer.

Sora shrugs, “Never really seemed like something to start anything over. People have been telling me I’m not all that bright for as long as I can remember.”

“Sora, you’re not stupid. You’re one of the smartest guys I know. I mean, sure, you can be a bit dense at times but other than that -”

“What do you mean dense?”

“Well, back before all of this started, I had a rather large crush on you.” She laughs as they enter the Foyer to see Ven and Axel taking on Cloud and Leon.

“I knew you had a crush on me. Well, like around the time I entered Castle Oblivion so after my first journey but I knew.”

“You knew? Why didn’t you say anything?”

Sora shrugs again, “I don’t know, I guess…by the time I figured out that you had a crush on me, my crush on you had kind of…”

“Disappeared?”

“Pretty much.” Sora sheepishly scratches at the back of his head.

“Is that the same time you figured out that you like Riku?”

Sora’s not even surprised that Kairi knows about his crush on Riku. Sora’s honestly surprised that Riku doesn’t know about his crush on him.

“No, that was a bit after. Around the middle of my second journey. Third journey?” Sora ponders. Before he’d been reunited with Roxas he’d had no memories of Castle Oblivion and had referred to his adventure taking down the Organization as his second journey. Sometimes he mistakenly calls his third journey his second.

Kairi chuckles, “Sounds like you realized just in time to get him back.”

Sora chuckles along and watches the two on two match in front of him. Leon and Cloud are coordinated like Sora’s never seen. He’d always been great when fighting alongside Riku, but he doesn’t think they have this level of coordination.

Axel and Ventus, on the other hand, look as if they can’t coordinate to save their lives. Sora can see the upset look on Axel’s – Lea’s – face when Ven does something or doesn’t do something. In his head, Sora is comparing Vens’ quick and slightly wild reverse blade fighting style to Roxas’ quick and precise dual wielding style. Sora is guessing Lea is doing the same.

But they’re not the same, despite the similarities. And it’s wrong to assume they are.

Leon and Cloud have picked up on this as well and are using it to their advantage. Without speaking a word to each other, they’ve quickly pitted Axel – Lea, man that’s hard to get used to – and Ven against each other. Soon, Ven and Axel are bumping into each other and interrupting each other’s attacks. At one point, Axel nearly burns Ven with his magic.

And then things get weird. The clashing of their swords stops. They continue fighting and swinging at each other, but Sora can’t hear their blade’s clashing. He should, but he doesn’t.

What the hell is wrong with him? He shakes his head, but that just makes him dizzy. Panicking, Sora wonders if he’s going to pass out again. He turns to Kairi, who looks back at him and says something.

He can barely hear her. Like he’s under water.

He opens his mouth to tell her that something’s wrong but nothing’s coming out. Like there’s a frog stuck in his throat. Next thing he knows, his vision is swimming and black is creeping in around the edges. He reaches for his friend but he feels the floor drop out from underneath him.

***

“Sora?” Kairi asks, worried when her friend doesn’t respond to her question.

Sora had always been spacey, but that’s with his thoughts elsewhere. Here, Sora is staring right at her with a scared expression but he won’t talk. He opens his mouth but a groaning sound is all that escapes. His pupils are dilated and his face looks pale.

“Sora?!” the fighting stops in the field as Leon rushes over.

Sora reaches out for her and then drops like a sack of bricks.

Kairi catches him and eases him down to the floor as Leon reaches them. Cloud races back to the castle as Ven and Lea rush over to Sora, their fight forgotten.

Kairi starts freaking out as Leon rolls Sora over and Sora looks dead.

“Damnit, why does this keep happening?” Leon curses and picks Sora up.

Kairi wonders the same thing as Leon turns and makes for the castle as well.

Before she can get far, Leon calls out, “Someone grab my sword,” over his shoulder. Lea and Ven turn for it, but Kairi, who was already next to it, grabs it and races after Leon without a second thought.

They get to the castle and Leon places Sora on the couch just as Cloud is walking in with Aerith. The brunet quickly shuffles over and kneels by Sora.

Kairi tightens her grip on Leon’s sword in worry as Aerith looks Sora over.

“Just like the other times.” Aerith stands, “But I’m worried. These fainting spells are inconsistent. And there seems to be no set cause.”

“Actually,” Leon interrupts, “I might have an idea on that.”

Kairi looks to the older brunet with curiosity, “What is it?”

Leon turns to her to reply but stops short and stares for a bit. When he doesn’t say anything for a minute Kairi shuffles, feeling a bit awkward.

“What?”

Leon snaps out of it and reaches over, taking his sword out of Kairi’s hands.

“It’s just a theory for now.” He turns and sets his sword down on the table.

Kairi’s a bit shocked at the loud thump it makes when it meets the table. It hadn’t felt that heavy.

“Well…share with the class.” Lea intones as he walks up to Leon.

“I’d like to test it first. No point in putting ideas that aren’t true in your heads.”

“You could try and work out your idea’s with the wiz kid in the computer room.” Cloud suggests and Kairi thinks he must be talking about one of the Organization members turned human.

“Perhaps,” Leon walks off, ending the discussion.

***

Riku sighs as they finally reach the area where the Heartless were swarming. He hadn’t been able summon his glider and race over because he’d have had to leave Yuffie behind. Oh what a thought. Yuffie never stops talking and Riku just wants to invest in some sound proof ear muffs or something.

Maybe he should learn the spell Silence.

That’d be nice.

“So like, then Sora told me about this one world where he and Donald and Goofy were transformed into fish people. Sora had the lower half of a Dolphin! Not even a proper mermaid!”

A Heartless pops up and Riku thanks the heavens as he summons his Keyblade in a swirl of light and darkness. He feels a twinge of jealousy as he thinks of Sora and Kairi and how they summon their Keyblades in a flash of light.

Am I the only one who doesn’t summon a Keyblade like that? He thinks to himself.

Yuffie springs into action beside him and Riku has to admit she’s a very competent fighter. Though nothing like Sora is. Yuffie’s style almost reminds Riku of Axel’s, but with less hand to hand capabilities and less fire.

But the fight in front of them does nothing to deter Yuffie from talking.

“And then this thing hops up and grabs Aerith! I mean like it was dead! I would have bet my priceless Materia collection – well, maybe not the whole things – okay not even a tiny set – but it was totally dead! I checked!”

Riku really wishes he had something to drown her out. Or maybe a different partner.

But he lives through her prattle throughout the fight and he suffers through it on the way back after their sweep. When they reach the castle, Riku is so thankful that Yuffie latches onto someone Riku doesn’t know and drags them away.

They didn’t look too scared, so Riku doesn’t bother worrying for him.

He doesn’t see anyone in the Foyer – where Leon and Cloud had been whooping Lea and Ven before he’d left – and wonders if he’s been gone a long time. It had felt like a few hours. But the sun is still high in the sky and Hallow Bastion has twenty four hour days like Destiny Island does, so he can’t have been gone that long.

Had they just finished training?

Riku gets a sinking feeling in his gut and quickly makes his way back to the castle, hoping to find Sora. Alive.

Chapter Text

Sora wakes up feeling groggy and he’s getting sick of waking up like this. He sits up to find himself back in ‘his room’ in the castle. Or at least…he thinks it is. They all look the same.

Snoring attracts Sora’s attention. Not a loud snoring, more like a barely there snore. Like Riku.

Sora smiles as he finds Riku sleeping halfway on the end of his bed. He’s barely sitting in a chair, leaning back so he’s laying down with his back on the end of Sora’s bed. He’s got his arms crossed like he’s napping in the sun on the island and he’s trying to not get caught by Kairi.

His sheepdog hair is splayed everywhere like a fan and he looks like he’s going to fall, ruining his makeshift bridge between Sora’s bed and his chair.

Sora quickly – but carefully, so as to not wake Riku – maneuvers so he’s sitting next to Riku’s head. He leans his elbows against his thighs and rests his chin on his right hand as his left plays with the ends of Riku’s hair.

It’s longer now than it’d ever been while on the island and whenever Sora would ask about it, Riku would just shrug and that was the end of that. He did look attractive with his hair longer, but he can’t imagine it’s easy to fight with all of that getting in the way.

Sora himself had gotten a trim from Kairi once they’d gotten back home, but it’s about halfway between his hair during his first journey and his hair during his second journey. Still wild, but not as long as it had gotten.

He thinks about how he got here. He’d been talking with Kairi. They’d been watching Cloud and Leon fight Ven and Ax – Lea. He must have passed out again. But he can’t remember passing out. Sora counts it as a good thing.

Riku’s eyes flutter open and he stares at Sora for a bit.

“Morning, sleepy head.” He laughs.

Riku blinks before focusing on the brunet. Sora hears his best friend shout his name before bolting up into a sitting position. Which was a bad idea on all accounts.

After slamming his forehead into Sora’s, Riku loses his status as bridge and falls to the floor ass first. Sora, having been blindsided by Riku’s head, clutches his own in pain and falls to the side and hits the wall. With his head.

Sora groans loudly and curls into the fetal position. Sure, he’s taken a beating before but that was completely unexpected and unwarranted.

“What the hell, Riku?!” Sora groans.

“Sorry!” Riku stands, clutching his own head in pain, “Glad to see you’re okay.”

“Matter of opinion.” Sora groans, uncurling but still clutching his head, “That hurt.”

“I know, I was there.” Riku laughs.

“What happened? Did I pass out again?”

Riku’s expression sobers and Sora feels guilt nibbling away at him. He’s not trying to do this.

“Yeah. We’re starting to worry.”

“I’m sorry.” Sora apologizes.

Riku gives him a forced smile, “It’s alright. We’ll find out what’s going on and we’ll fix it.”

Sora smiles, wishing that were true.

***

“Tell me about Sora’s feinting spells.” Leon wants to smack the kid in front of him.

He’s not even a kid, but it rubs Leon the wrong way how holier-than-thou he acts.

“Not much to tell. From everything I heard, the circumstances are all different. Sora doesn’t remember it at all.” Leon tells him.

Ienzo turns to look at him like he’s mentally deficient.

“How can you expect me to come up with a hypothesis with such minimal data? I’m a scientist, Leon.”

“I know we don’t have a lot to work with, kid, I’m just asking for your help in the future trying to figure out what’s wrong with Sora.”

He sighs, turning away from the computer he’s been trying – and filing – to use.

“Yes, Leon, I will help you.”

The way he says it makes Leon’s blood boil.

***

Ven slumps against the far wall of their groups makeshift sparring area. He’s exhausted and tired and angry but none of that helps him. His body does not want to respond the way he knows it can and he’s starting to suspect that he was asleep a lot longer than he’d originally thought.

He’s weak and like this he has no hope of taking on Xehanort or his heartless.

Lea laughs as he takes a seat next to him, “Tired already?”

Lea, who had been his sparring partner earlier, had kicked his ass. To be fair, it had been a close match and Lea had definitely improved considerably.

“So tired.” Ven groans, letting his head thud against the wall behind him.

Silence reigns between them, so Ven closes his eyes and enjoys the silence. Lea, as it turns out, was still the funny and nice guy that Ven had met before. The exception was Riku, who Lea has a serious grudge with. He’s too scared to ask what happened between them.

Ven opens his eyes and looks at Lea, “So…I have a question.”

“And I’ve got an answer.” The red head teases.

“What happened to your friend? Isa?”

The smile falls from Lea’s face and Ven wants to hit himself. That could be like someone asking what happened to Terra and Aqua.

“I don’t know. We drifted apart while we were Nobodies. But he didn’t wake up with me and the others. For all I know, he’s out there somewhere looking for me.”

“Why don’t you go out there and look for him?”

Lea chuckles, “I have no way of doing it. Now that I’m human the Pathways of Darkness hold a serious threat to my heart and that was how I got around before.”

“That sucks. If I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.” Ven offers.

“You going somewhere?” Lea looks at him in surprise.

“Maybe. I was thinking about it.” Ven confesses, “I still have to find Aqua and Terra. Sitting here isn’t going to tell me what happened to them.”

“I see. Well if I meet Terra and Aqua…I’ll tell them you’re looking for them.”

Ven chuckles and thanks Lea as he pushes himself up, “I’m not leaving until I know I can fight on my own, though.”

“So you’ll be here a while.” Lea ruffles Ven’s hair and the blond lets out a loud protest.

“You two having fun?” Ven turns to see Sora, Riku, and Kairi making their way over.

“Yeah, sure, fun.” Lea huffs, giving Riku a look.

“What are you guys doing out here?” Kairi asks, effortless drawing the conversation away from the short comment.

“We were sparring. I’ve gotten extremely rusty.”

“There’s no need to rush.” Lea jokes as he rests his elbow on Ventus’ head.

Ven quickly swats Lea away and everyone chuckles.

“If you guys are training, would you mind us butting in?”

“Of course not!” Ven wonders why anyone would mind, but then he remembers the animosity between Axel and Riku, “But you’ll have to give me some time, I just got done with a round.”

“That’s fine!” Kairi walks over and links her arm with his, “You can tell me more about your friends as we watch Riku and Sora spar. Then we’ll go. Sound good?”

Ven nods and walks over to the far side of the open area with Kairi. The red head hops up onto the railing barrier and Ven stands next to her legs. Lea follows them and stands on the opposite side of Kairi, not looking away from Sora and Riku.

“Think you can beat me this time, Sora?” Riku asks, smirk painting his face as he summons his Keyblade.

Ven notices the swirl of light and dark, a contrast to the typical flash of light that accompanies a Keyblade, and thinks that it’s beautiful. Like a harmony.

“Oh, please. I’ve kicked your butt before, I’ll do it again.” Sora snarks back and summons his own Keyblade.

Sora’s flash of light, while typical, seems a bit different to Ventus. He’s not sure why, but it looks…dark?

He shakes his head; that doesn’t make sense. It’s a flash of light. You can’t have a dark flash of light.

“This is going to last a while.” Kairi laughs beside the blond and he sends her a quizzical look.

“What do you mean?”

“Despite how ‘out of practice’ they say they are, Sora and Riku spar together all the time. They know how the other fights and no one ever wins. Their fights can end up lasting an hour or more until they decide to give up.”

Ven watches as the two of them stand opposite each other for a few seconds, waiting to see who will attack first. In the end, Riku charges forward first and slashes at the brunet.

Sora easily jumps over the attack, and Riku in general, and spins in the air to hit the light haired boy. But Riku saw it coming, or he has really good reaction time, and spins around and blocks the attack. Sora lands and rushes forward, sending the two of them into a graceful dance of dodging and attacking.

“Wow.” Ven awes.

Kairi laughs, “You should see them when they fight together. Side by side.”

“I can’t imagine.”

“I have to imagine it’s pretty spectacular.” Lea murmurs from next to Kairi.

Ven looks over and both of them look like they’ve bitten into a lemon. Ven wishes he knew about it. There seems to be quite a bit that he doesn’t know about his new friends.

Sora and Riku race towards each other and it’s another flurry of strikes. The two seem so in sync as they fight. One retreating as the other advances and effortlessly switching roles. It’s fascinating to watch the two of them fight.

Then Ven starts to worry, because Sora had said he thought he was out of shape, but he’s certain Sora is more in practice than he is. How difficult must these heartless be? How trying had their journey been to result in the skill he sees before him.

“Come on, Sora. I know you can do better than that!” Riku calls out as Sora backflips away from one of Riku’s attacks.

Sora uses his legs as leverage to spin himself around in the air as he fires a blizzard spell at his friend.

“Says the one who’s out of breath!” Sora calls back as Riku skirts around his spell.

“I could go for hours!” Riku laughs, jumping into the air to attack Sora.

Kairi sighs and rolls her eyes beside Ven.

“What’s wrong?” Lea asks.

“They’re gonna start showing off.”

And she’s right. Their fight gets aerial very quickly and Ven is shocked that the two of them can stay off the floor for that long. They use their surroundings to jump off of and clash together.

Before he really knows what is happening, Riku is doubling his offensive action and his final hit sends Sora flying back. He almost soars right off the Foyer they’re using and down the hundred foot drop to the city below.

But Sora easily catches one of the large flag poles jutting out of the railing with his Keyblade and uses the momentum to slingshot himself back at Riku. The brunet swings his Keyblade in an arch but Riku blocks and uses Sora’s momentum against him, swinging him around and flinging him away again.

Sora catches himself on the flag pole with his hand this time. He swings around a few times before slowing himself down and looking over at Riku from his higher vantage point.

“This isn’t working! Neither of us is going to win!” Sora calls out.

Riku, hair slightly disheveled and windblown, gives a breathy laugh in return.

“Are you admitting defeat!?” Riku teases and Ven misses Terra and Aqua so very much.

“Never!” Sora furrows his brow and looks like he’s going to launch himself back at Riku to start their fight again.

Kairi beats both of them to the punch, “I’m calling it a tie! You both look out of breath.”

Sora, from where he’s hanging from the flag pole, laughs and nods, letting his Keyblade flash away. Riku dismisses his and nods, rolling his shoulder.

“Then it’s your turn, right?” Riku walks over to Sora, just to the right of Ventus, Kairi, and Lea.

“Yup!” Kairi chirps, “Who wants to help me train?” She looks between Lea and himself.

Lea motions for him to go so Ven walks forward, letting his own Keyblade flash into his hands as Kairi summons hers. Her Keyblade looks out of place in her hands, as if it’s not her own Keyblade.

Ven shrugs it off, knowing it’s none of his business.

“You coming down from there?” Riku crosses his arms and looks up at Sora in amusement.

“I don’t know, it’s a nice view point and you went through the strenuous effort of sending me up here twice.” Sora laughs, looking down at Riku.

Ven watches as Riku shakes his head and the blond thinks Riku has to be rolling his eyes and smiling, even though he can’t see the lighter haired boy’s face as he gets to the center of the Foyer with Kairi.

“I have to warn you, my fighting isn’t nearly as impressive.” Kairi tells him, falling into a stance that Ven doesn’t recognize.

They’re all probably self-taught.

Ven laughs and quips back, “I won’t hold it against you.”

Kairi lets out a huff of amusement and then she’s all business. She charges at him, and she’s not particularly slow, but she’s definitely not someone with speed, like Ventus himself. He easily side steps her and goes to hit her opening, but she quickly block his attack and counters with her own.

He blocks, but the hit vibrates down his Keyblade and he dances away for a second to figure out how to do this.

He may not be a strategist like Aqua, but he’s better than Terra had been. She’s a slow runner, but she’s quick with her Keyblade and a heavy hitter. He wishes he was more adept at Magic like Aqua or Lea so he could fight her from afar. Deciding to see what she’s got, he charges in and jumps, twisting himself in the air to slam his Keyblade down on her but she guards. He starts wailing on her, but her defense doesn’t waver and he decides he needs a new strategy.

He dances away again and catches a glimpse of their onlookers.

Riku is watching them but above him, Sora is staring down at the city below. Lea is glaring at the two boys with something like envy in his eyes.

Kairi doesn’t give him time to focus on his surroundings for long. She charges at him and unleashes a string of attacks in a beautiful display of grace and fury. Ventus guards the first, but decides to simply dodge the rest as the force of her attack echoes through both blades and down his arm.

Which leads to Kairi chasing him and trying to attack him. He’s glad his forte is speed, otherwise she might just get him and kick his out of shape butt.

He sees an opening and jumps at it. Or…over it. He twists in the air to land behind his sparring partner and uses the back of his Keyblade on the back of her knees, making her fall.

Ven easily catches her before she can hit the floor.

She laughs, “You sneaky little -”

Ven laughs with her, “Yeah.”

Kairi stands up and Ven thinks he’s never seen anyone lose a fight so gracefully.

“That was quick.” Lea smirks at them and Kairi blows him a raspberry.

“That was really good, Kairi.” Riku compliments her, “You’re a natural.”

“That fight was so short though!” Kairi sighs, “And not nearly as impressive as your fight.”

“We have three adventures under our belt, Kairi. You have half an adventure. Not even that, actually.” He looks up, “Right, Sora?”

Sora snaps his head back to them and looks confused, “Totally.”

Ven laughs, knowing Sora has no idea what they were talking about.

“What are you spacing out over?” Lea asks, walking over to them.

Sora goes to respond but looks disgruntled. Like he can’t really explain it. The brunet’s eye flicker over to Ven and his discontented look increases.

“I, um…” Sora hops down from the flag pole, “I’m gonna go check something out.” Sora leaves the foyer – not quite in a jog, but definitely not walking – and Ven watches Kairi and Riku share a look.

“I’ll go after Sora, you should stay here and spar with someone who isn’t Sora.” Kairi smiles at Riku.

The silver haired teen nods, but doesn’t look too happy about letting Kairi be the one to go after Sora.

Ven reminds himself to ask Kairi if there’s anything going on between Riku and Sora.

Chapter Text

Kairi jogs down path from the foyer and past the – now completed – reconstruction sight. She huffs, mentally cursing Sora in her head for being such a great runner.

She’d have to urge him to join the track team if they ever actually settled down to have a normal life.

Kairi almost runs past Sora – she’d barely seen him out of the corner of her eye – and quickly skids to a stop. A few citizens of Radiant Garden cast her weird looks but she ignores them as she backtracks and runs into the alley she’d seen Sora in.

“Sora, what are you doing? Why do you keep running off?”

Sora turns around and gives her a look, “I didn’t run off.”

“You did!” She argues, “And Riku will back me up on this.”

Sora mutters something under his breath and someone laughs behind Sora. Kairi pauses her rant to look around Sora and gasps.

“Hello, Kairi.” Roxas waves at her with a small, almost invisible, smile.

Sora realizes her shock so he stands to the side and waves his arms as if presenting a prize, “Ta-da!”

Kairi stares in shock for a bit before sputtering, “But, HOW?!”

“Jeez, it’s good to see you, too.” The blond smirks.

Kairi huffs out a puff of air – it’s not a sigh, it’s not – before smiling and giving him a hug.

“It’s really good to see you.” She whispers, not letting go.

“What are you…”

“It’s called a hug. You know what a hug is.” Sora teases, “She’s not letting go until you hug back.”

She gets a half-assed hug in return but she doesn’t care, it’s a start.

“Oh!” Kairi realizes with a start, turning to Sora, “He doesn’t know. You lost contact with him before it happened!”

The other two share a confused look before it clicks in Sora’s mind, “Oh!”

Sora grins like a dork and grabs the blond’s hand, tugging him along towards the foyer outside their group’s makeshift

“What are you doing?!” Roxas asks, not actually protesting.

“Taking you to our base of operations!” Kairi quickly catches up and grabs their other hand, tugging him along as well.

****

Roxas feels something in his chest; a resemblance to happiness. He remembers Sora feeling like this when he’s with his friends.

Is that what Sora is to him? A friend?

His hands tighten around Kairi and Sora’s hands. Both look back at him but don’t stop walking. Kairi looks at him in confusion, but Sora just smiles and tilts his head, telling him ‘I know you miss him’ without ever uttering a word.

But there’s something else in that look and Roxas tries to smile back at the unknown, unspoken words.

Sora leads them through Hallow Bastion with an ease that shows his time spent here and Roxas knows, with some certainty, that they’re heading up to the castle.

He doesn’t know what’s at the castle that has those stupidly dorky smiles on their faces, but it’s…infectious. He tries to control it, go back to sporting a neutral face, but it’s difficult with the two in front of him laughing silently.

As they get closer to the outside of the castle, he can hear metal crashing together and the crackling of fire in short bursts.

And it’s like he’s taken off a blindfold and can instantly see where this could be going and he starts panicking. His chest constricts and he doesn’t understand how he can be so afraid when he has no heart. If these are just memories, if this is just fake, he shouldn’t feel like he’s going to pass out from lack of oxygen.

And they get to the top of the stairs that lead to the foyer and, sure enough, there he is.

He’s sparring – or he hopes they’re sparring – with Riku and fire is flying everywhere. Riku is dancing away, always just out of reach and Roxas knows his old partner has to be getting frustrated.

Axel isn’t wearing their old black coat. He’s in…civilian clothing. All browns and tans and greens.

A Chakram goes flying and Riku skirts around it and goes for the obvious opening. But Roxas knows that move and he knows the Chakram is going ricochet off of a wall before it even has a chance. Riku strikes at Axel – which he blocks with his other Chakram – before throwing himself backwards and onto his knees, just barely ducking under the second Chakram.

“It got pretty intense pretty fast.” Roxas hears from his left.

“I can tell.” Sora chuckles, but Roxas doesn’t think he found it very funny.

Roxas wants to run, with his tail tucked between his legs. He’d been…so cruel to Axel in their last meetings and he can’t remember why for the life of him. Would they be able to move past this? Would they be able to be friends again?

Riku backflips away from one of Axels’ attacks catches a glimpse of them. At first he doesn’t pay them any mind, but he quickly does a double take and stares at Roxas like he’s got four heads and a tail. He backflips away from Axel and stands, getting rid of his Keyblade.

Axel stands, too, but doesn’t dismiss his weapon. Roxas thinks he’s calling something out to Riku. Probably something antagonistic. But Riku just shakes his head and nods in their direction.

Roxas feels like he might puke, he’s so anxious. Axel stands a bit straighter and turns to look at their observing group. He passes right over Roxas and turns back to Riku.

Roxas wishes he were closer so he could hear the smart ass thing Riku is saying but he also wishes he could be invisible and never have to deal with this. But he wants Axel back in his life – can’t remember why he even cut him out – and the only way to do that is to face him.

Axel looks back with an irritated look on his face and he can hear Kairi and Sora snickering. And then Axel sees him. Actually sees him and he stops.

“We’ll be over here.” Sora stage whispers before tugging Kairi along with him.

Riku meanders over to his friends and that leaves Roxas with Axel and anxiety that makes him want to explode into a million pieces.

They stare and stare and apparently they stare too long because Riku coughs loudly, making both of them jump.

“Rox?”

Roxas gives a small wave, “Hey.”

He’s expecting yelling and rude words and maybe a bit of physical violence. What he gets is Axel rushing forward and enveloping him in a bone crushing hug. His arms are pinned between their bodies and his feet leave the ground.

“Ax, you’re crushing me.”

Axel pulls away, “It’s L- you know what, I don’t care right now.” He laughs, and Roxas notices that the tattoo’s under Axel’s eyes are gone.

“You’re really here?” Axel whispers, like he can’t believe it.

“Yeah. I think so. I..I can’t believe you’re here. I saw you -”

“Yeah. I just…woke up. Like this.”

Roxas smiles. He doesn’t know what ‘this’ is. He doesn’t really care. Axel is here and he’s alive.

But he can’t just brush this under the rug and pretend those mean words hadn’t been said.

“I’m sorry.” Roxas blurts, “About what I said. About…you lying and hiding things from me. I don’t know where I could have gotten that idea from.”

“Don’t apologize. I didn’t tell you everything, but I told you everything I thought you needed to know and…I’m sorry, too. For thinking…I had the right to control what you know.”

Roxas smiles, “So we’re good?”

“Of course, partner.” Roxas hasn’t felt so relieved in…well…ever. Except, maybe when Axel came back from Castle Oblivion.

Roxas’ smile falls from his face as tears start falling down Axel’s cheeks.

“Axel! You’re crying!”

Axel smiles wider and wipes away the tears with the palm of his hand, “Sorry. Ugh, my emotions have been all over the place since I woke up.”

Roxas is confused. He thought Nobodies couldn’t feel emotions. His mind races in circles and his confusion probably shows on his face because Axel laughs.

“I woke up human.” Axel elaborates.

“Oh.” The blond throws out dumbly.

Riku?!” Sora whispers, but he fails at keeping quiet.

Roxas turns to see Riku walking off and Sora trailing after him.

Where are you going?

In a normal voice, Riku responds, “I’m giving them privacy. You know I hate PDA’s.”

Kairi chuckles and trails after Riku, “Like when Sora fell to his knees and started sobbing?”

Sora stops short, “That was! You were! I hadn’t seen Riku in two years! There’s nothing wrong with crying!” Sora yells, turning red in the face next to…

Roxas doesn’t know how he walked right past his…doppleganger? The boy next to Sora looks just like him, albeit with different clothes. He can’t look away as Sora runs after Riku and Kairi.

Axel must notice, because he starts dragging Roxas over to him. The other blond notices them walking over and meets them halfway.

****

Ventus can’t really believe his eyes. In front of him is…him. Just…in black coat and a confused expression on his face.

Well their expressions probably aren’t that different.

“Rox, this is Ventus. I knew him before I was part of the Organization. Ven, this is my partner,” He places both of his hands on the other boys’ shoulders, “Roxas.”

And everything clicks into place.

“Oh!” He laughs, “You’re Roxas? I can see why everyone thought I was you.” He holds out his hand for the other to shake.

Roxas smiles back and shakes his hand. It’s a nice smile and Ven wonders if his smile looks like that.

Axel takes his hands off Roxas’ shoulders and leans his elbow on his head, “For future reference, Roxas kind of acts like a Zombie sometimes.”

Roxas rolls his eyes and playfully swats at Axel, “Oh, gee, thanks.”

Ven laughs as the three of them talk. As it goes on though, he notices a troubled look in Roxas’ eyes.

 

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe Roxas came back.” Ienzo looks up from his computer when Leon walks into the room with Cloud and Aerith

“Sora really is capable of just about anything.” Cloud responds with a small smile.

Ienzo turns back to his project, trying to figure out exactly what the superior did on his little excursions here. But he hadn’t told the Restoration Committee about that. Or the other apprentices of Ansem the Wise.

“Yes, it was quite surprising to find out Roxas was still alive.” Aerith chimes in as she walks into the room with Aerith.

“It’s not all that surprising if you think about it. And technically ‘alive’ isn’t the correct word. He still exists. But he has no heart.” Even butts into their conversation, being nosy as usual.

But Ienzo is relieved that Even is no longer trying to discover what he’s trying to do, so he counts it as a blessing.

But Aerith doesn’t look all that pleased with Even’s interruption.

“And why isn’t it surprising?” Leon asks before Aerith can scold him.

“Well, all of us are here.” Ienzo sighs, hoping Even won’t try to drag him into the conversation.

The computer throws up another firewall and Ienzo feels frustration flare up in him like a fire.

Stupid emotions, he thinks to himself, I miss being a Nobody.

His mind travels to the castle and his hands still over the keys.

Before his mind can travel far, Even calls his name.

“Don’t you agree, Ienzo?”

“I wasn’t listening.” It’s not exactly a lie, he hadn’t heard the last part.

“Roxas’ appearance is only unusual in the fact that he should have rejoined with Sora completely.”

Ienzo sighs and turns around.

“Roxas is too stubborn, even without a heart, to give up. He probably held out some hope that he could be himself again one day. Sora releasing his heart was just the catalyst that Roxas needed to be free.”

Even crosses his arms, looking upset, but Leon turns to Ienzo.

“Do you think Sora releasing his heart has something to do with his feinting spells?”

Ienzo closes his eyes and thinks about it.

“Perhaps. But I’m still curious as to how Sora’s still alive and in one piece after that particular stunt.”

“Perhaps Sora is just as stubborn as Roxas?”

Ienzo tilts his head to the side and lets a ghost of a smile grace his lips, “I highly doubt someone could keep their heart after freely releasing it through sheer force of will. But it is a nice thought.”

“I just hope Sora gets better.” Leon mutters, perhaps a bit louder than he intended.

Sora’s very lucky to have friends who care for him so much. I can see why he’s so formidable if they’re his power. Ienzo turns back to his personal project.

***

It’s training time and Kairi has just finished her round with Riku and the two of them have practically thrown themselves onto the bench off to the side where Sora and Roxas are.

“So, your turn?” Kairi asks, flapping the end of her long pink skirt about to create a breeze.

“Well, Ven and Axel aren’t here -”

“Lea.” Sora corrects, trying to be helpful.

“Whatever,” Roxas rolls his eyes, “They’re not here, which only leaves me and Sora. And even if Riku has the stamina to go again, Sora and Riku can’t train together because there’s no real challenge.”

“That’s true.” Kairi hears Riku comment.

“And we all know I can kick Riku’s butt six ways from Sunday.”

“Didn’t he beat you in The World That Never Was?” Sora asks, confused and a bit uncomfortable with the subject.

They were all a little uncomfortable with that subject, mostly Riku and Roxas. But Kairi and Sora always feel awkward talking about it because they know what Riku did was wrong, but they’re also his friends and they know why he did it. They feel a bit…guilty. For…accepting that as easily as they did.

“He cheated. After I kicked his butt.” Roxas rolls his eyes.

“Also true.” Riku says, looking in the opposite direction of Roxas.

“Which leaves Kairi.” Roxas looks her over, “And you look exhausted, too.”

“I do not.” Kairi protests, but falters, “Can you really tell?”

Her fight with Riku had been exhausting. Riku was fast and strong and he had way more practice under his belt. Kairi ignores that and watches Roxas’ face filter between amused to confused and then finally rest on neutral.

“Yeah.” He looks away, brows knitting together in frustration or confusion.

It was rather hard for her to read Roxas. She couldn’t do it nearly as well as she could read Riku.

“So you wanna go a round? You’re probably not as rusty as I am despite you disappearing for a while.” Sora smiles and tucks his hands behind his head.

Roxas looks up at him and it’s like whatever was bothering him never existed in the first place.

“I don’t know if you can still beat me, Sora.” Roxas teases.

“Only one way to find out!” Sora exclaims as he hops up and walks to the center of their little arena.

Kairi rolls her eyes as they banter a bit and eventually start their fight. She turns to Riku and compliments him, “You were good.”

Riku blushes and tries to use his bangs to cover it up, “Thanks. You were really good, too. You’re improving amazingly well.”

Kairi smiles and tosses her hair over her shoulder, “I know” She jokes.

“I’m serious.” Riku looks at her, “I never improved that this rate. It took me ages to get what you’re getting in…hours.”

“Maybe I just have a natural talent?” She laughs, “Or maybe it’s all that time I spent wishing I could join you guys in your fake sword fights as a kid and just watching from the sidelines.”

Riku stops and looks at her in shock, “I had no idea you even wanted to join. Why didn’t you say anything?”

Kairi shrugs and looks out towards the skyline, “It wasn’t ladylike to want to fight.” She sighs, “I tried to talk to my dad about it, but that’s what he told me.”

“Then the mayor’s an idiot.” Riku spits, surprising Kairi a bit, “You can do whatever you want to do, gender has nothing to do with it. You saved Sora. You saw me as me when even Sora didn’t. You’re amazing, Kairi. You shouldn’t let what other people think hold you back.”

Kairi feels her face heating up and pushes gently on Riku’s shoulder. He doesn’t even move.

“Thanks. And I’m getting that. After a few years…I’m beginning to get that.” She picks at her nails.

“Would you like it if we sparred together more often?” Riku asks her, smiling gently.

“I’d like that, but I don’t want to get in the way of you wooing Sora through sparring.” Kairi teases.

Riku stiffens up and stutters a bit, blood rushing to his face, before choking out, “I don’t – I never – How did you!?!”

“Oh please, you’re transparent. You gush over Sora. You act like he hung the moon and the sun shines out his ass at the same time.”

“I do not.”

“No,” Kairi admits, “but you want to.”

“I do not.” Riku gives her a petulant look which she returns with what Selphie called a bitch-face.

“How did you even figure it out. I thought I was hiding it pretty well.”

“From Sora maybe, but you know he’s denser than the main islands forest when he wants to be.”

Riku groans and lets himself fall against the back of the bench they’re sitting on.

“You’re not going to…” He gestures to the dual-blade fighting going on.

“Tell him? No. I can keep your secret. But you should -”

“I’m not telling him.” Riku cuts her off in a no-nonsense tone that Kairi knows he inherited from his dad.

“Why not?” Kairi asks, half-knowing the answer.

“I’m not good enough for him. I’m not good enough for him or our island or a family or -”

Kairi hugs Riku, despite knowing his predisposition against touching, and stays there even as he tenses up at the touch.

“You’re ‘good enough’ for Sora. You’re ‘good enough’ to have a million friends, and the Island is your home just as much as it is mine and your family loves you, Riku. You need to stop thinking you’re a bad person. You’re not Riku. You’re really not.” Kairi hears her own voice crack as she backs up to look at Riku, who fidgets in his seat, “And I’m sorry about hugging you, but you need it. You’ve been alone long enough, Riku. You’ve been punished enough for three sentences and you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I invited the darkness in and destroyed our home.” Riku mutters, looking away with something dark in his eyes.

“You were afraid of losing us and you wanted to go to other worlds, it’s understandable. You learned from your mistake.”

“I betrayed Sora.”

“You were manipulated into seeing things a certain way by Maleficent, Riku. That’s not your fault. You didn’t have all of the information.”

“I let the darkness in!” Riku turns his body away from her.

“Ansem – Xehanort’s heartless, whatever – he tricked you! You were possessed and everything you did while possessed ISN’T your fault. He forced you.”

“But -” Kairi leans forward again so that the front of her chest is resting on his back, her chin is on his shoulder, and her arms are around him.

“No one blames you, Riku.” She tells him, “But if that’s the way you feel, I’ll tell you something that might help. And I’ll say it again and again, no matter how many times you need to hear it.”

Riku hangs his head, as if he knows what she’s going to say and he doesn’t want to hear it. Riku is so easy to read. Like an open book.

She wishes Sora were so easy.

“I forgive you, Riku.” She whispers, “I forgive you for everything you did and everything you think you did. You’re one of my best friends Riku, and I’ll always forgive you for the mistakes you make, so long as you realize those mistakes and learn from them.”

Riku clasps one of his hands on her arm and squeezes, showing her that he appreciates her physical affection and that he wants her to let go.

She squeezes once before letting go and watching Riku get up and leave. She thinks about going after him when she hears Ven call her name. She turns to see Ven and Lea standing on the other side of their faux battlefield and waving. Kairi sighs, knowing Riku won’t go far and will come back soon.

The princess makes her way over to the pair and greets them, “Hey.”

“What’s up with Riku?” Ven asks, looking concerned.

“He’s just being dramatic.” Kairi half lies, hoping Ven won’t ask more about it. He takes the hint and changes topics.

“I see we’re late for practice.” He nods towards Roxas and Sora’s fight.

The two of them are still dancing around, but looking a bit fatigued. Roxas’ blades are moving at incredible speed, which Sora is able to deflect with both of his own. They both hold a skill that Kairi is envious of.

Ventus, too, if his reaction had been any indication when Roxas had first shown his innate ability. It was only doubled when Sora mimicked his Nobody.

“Yeah. Just a bit.” She teases.

“Sorry, princess, I had to make myself presentable.” Lea leans his elbow on her head and she swats at him.

“Then I don’t know how you ever show your face.” She sticks her tongue out at him.

Lea places a hand over his heart and pretends to be wounded, “Still don’t like me?”

“It takes a while to forgive someone for kidnapping.” Kairi barbs, despite having forgiven him as soon as she’d learned of his plan to use her to see Roxas. She could understand that want. She would have done just about anything to see Sora and Riku again when that portal showed up.

“Ven, help, she’s wounding me.” Lea leans on Ven’s shoulder and the blonde just looks confused and a bit concerned.

Kairi notices the peculiar absence of metal hitting metal and looks over the center of the field. She spots Roxas who looks like he’s bitten a lemon and is about to throw up all at the same time. Sora’s talking to him, but the blond in the center of the foyer isn’t listening as he turns around and hurriedly walks off in the opposite direction.

The brunet almost goes after him, but stops himself and goes to meet them instead.

“Where’s Roxas going?” Lea asks Sora as he reaches them.

“I don’t know. He just stopped suddenly. I almost hit him in the face. Looked like he was going to barf.” Sora gives Lea a peculiar look, “You should go after him. Talk. See what’s wrong.”

“Why didn’t you go after him?” Ven asks.

Sora gives Lea a look, “I’m not his partner. I figured Lea’d like to talk to him.”

Kairi watches Lea stand up straight and go after the blond. As soon as he’s out of ear shot, Kairi asks what’s really wrong with Roxas, but the brunet shrugs.

“He wouldn’t say anything.” Sora elaborates, “But, on another topic, where did Riku go?”

Kairi laughs. Of course he’d ask about Riku. She wonders just how lost on Riku Sora is, but she feels like she already knows the answer.

“We had a personal talk so, of course, he fled.” Sora smiles fondly and laughs.

“Yeah, that sounds like Riku.”

****

It’s been two days since Sora had reunited the two; there shouldn’t be trouble already. Lea decides to tackle this head on, so he sits next to Roxas when he finds him.

“You alright, partner?” Lea asks, leaning back on his hand.

He notes that Roxas still hasn’t let go of his Organization cloak. He’s not even sure where he got the damn thing. He’d woken up in his, but he’d also died in it. And Ienzo and the others from Radiant Garden had woken up in the clothes they’d lost their hearts in.

“I guess.” Roxas mutters.

Definitely not okay.

“Want to talk about it?”

“I…” Roxas closes his mouth and glares off into the distance.

Lea tilts his head, “Come on.”

Roxas pulls his legs up and hugs them, resting his chin on top of his knees.

“I feel like I’m forgetting something.” Roxas whispers, “And I…”

He tucks his head into the nest his arms make and stops again.

“Well, if you’re forgetting something…it’ll come back eventually, right?”

“Maybe,” Comes Roxas’ muffled voice, “But I feel like I’m forgetting something important. I saw you with Kairi and Ventus and I just – my brain said something about that was so wrong.”

“Roxas, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were getting jealous.” Roxas doesn’t laugh at his joke.

“It’s stupid, I know.” Roxas rests his chin on his knees and looks out to the horizon.

“It’s not stupid.” Lea lays back and watches as the clouds above them roll by with the wind.

They stay there for a while, long enough for the noon sun to pass by and start its slow descent past the horizon. Neither of them say anything and just enjoying each other’s company.

“Hey, Ax – Lea.” Roxas catches himself at the last minute and Lea knows everyone’s getting used to it still but it irks him.

“What.” He snaps a bit harsher than he meant to.

“What’s that?”

Lea sits up to see his partner pointing out into the distance to a large blackness. It moves, as if alive, in the distance, and it takes a while for Lea’s mind to process that it’s not just one large blackness in the distance, but in fact a swarm of smaller blackness’s pilling together.

“Heartless?!” Lea is on his feet in an instant and Roxas stands after him, black coat chiming to signal his movement.

“We have to get back.” Roxas is racing off back towards the foyer and it’s not a problem for Lea’s longer legs to keep up with his partner.

When they get back to the HBRC’s headquarters, Leon and some of the others are already rushing out.

“Good, you two, go with Ventus. We can’t let the Heartless get into the city.”

“I thought you had a defense system for this kind of problem!” Roxas spits out next to him, quickly making his way down the street after Ventus.

Lea races after him, barely catching Leon’s reply which was somewhere along the lines of ‘not a swarm of this size’.

They have a hard time keeping up with Ventus, who runs like he’s raced marathons his whole life, but they eventually get out of the city and into the canyons just in time to stop a small swarm of Soldiers from getting inside the walls.

“You ready for this?” Lea calls out.

He’s relieved when both blonds call out their affirmation and they charge right up to the oncoming heartless. He tries not to let his mind wander as he fights, but it’s easy to do so. He and Roxas sync up so well that he doesn’t have to think about where he’s throwing his fire. Roxas knows his placement and fighting style as well as his own and fighting as a team is second nature.

But Ventus. He’s reckless in Lea’s eyes. He runs right up to where Lea’s fire is going to land and he has to snuff out that attack. He spends so much time trying to focus on not attacking Ven that his entire fight system is messed up. Roxas, sensing the mess up, backs up a bit, taking out the heartless creeping too close to the red head.

Lea doesn’t have time or need to thank the blond as more Heartless make their way towards them.

****

Sora races off to the farthest reaches of the canyon on his glider with Riku right behind him. He can see everyone else as they try to reach the center of the swarm and take out the heart. If they can disrupt the ranks of the Heartless, maybe they could break them up into smaller groups and make it easier to kill them all off.

But everyone else is already at work and Sora can see them struggling from his vantage point. Without even needing to look at his best friend, Sora knows Riku feels guilty for delaying them. When they’d gotten word from the early detection system, Cloud had told him to go after Riku and take out the heart. It hadn’t taken him even ten minutes to find Riku, but ten minutes could mean life or death in a battle field and the brunet knows Riku’s guilt complex all too well.

Sora flies low, slowing himself down to a reasonable speed and jumps off his glider. In the air he summons his Keyblade and calls for his Salvation spell as soon as he’s close to the floor, knocking Heartless into the air and killing the few directly near him. Riku, just seconds behind him, cuts through the airborne Heartless he can reach.

He twists himself in the air and sticks his landing, Riku landing in front of him seconds later. He charges past Riku as he stands, taking out as many heartless as he can. He tries to be as efficient as possible because he knows his sparring match with Roxas tired him out, despite his rest.

With Riku by his side, it doesn’t take much to wipe out the small heartless and from there, things only get worse. Bigger heartless show up. Large Bodies and Fat Bandits in waves and after Sora and Riku have tag teamed those to death, Defenders show up and start hurling magic this way and that.

The two take turns playing decoy and hacking at the heartless. As Sora spins out of the way of another fireball directed at his chest, the ground quakes beneath them and Sora loses his footing. Riku is by his side in seconds, steadying him.

The Heartless around them are still, until as one they turn and scurry off away from the city. The ones closer to the city than them rush past, not bothering to even try to attack them.

“Sora!” Riku calls, shifting his stance to, what Sora knows is, the starting position of their joint move; Session.

It’s autopilot, almost, performing this with Riku. It takes a bit of energy, of course, but it’s effortless in his mind. It comes naturally, even as they’re slicing through Heartless after Heartless and creating a gravitational collision with their Keyblades. Any heartless that gets even anywhere near them is drawn in, dying almost instantly.

They land and Sora looks over to his partner to see his arm raised, waiting. Sora smirks and bumps Riku’s arm with his own. Sora looks around to see few heartless running frantically and the cause of the previous quake. There are three Darksides gathered together in the canyon on the other side of the city.

“Riku!” Sora points to the scene.

“That’s where Kairi went!” Sora can hear the panic in Riku’s voice.

Riku’s Keyblade disappears and he’s on his glider in seconds. Sora keeps his own Keyblade out and hops onto the back of Riku’s glider. They’re off in seconds, ignoring the few Heartless that their friends have missed. If they were to go into the city with these numbers the defense system could easily take them out.

Sora has a hard time seeing clearly with how fast Riku’s pushing his glider to go, but there’s no mistaking one of the Darkside’s dying or the heart that releases when it happens. The canyon blurs by underneath them but Sora can see people beneath them.

His main concern is Kairi.

When Riku slows his glider to a reasonable speed, Sora can see Kairi relentlessly attack the Darkside closest to her. Yuffie and Aerith are a small way off towards the city. From the looks of it, Yuffie took a beating and Aerith is taking care of her.

Just as Riku is about to descend closer, Kairi releases a light attack, much like a mix between Sora’s Faith and Salvation but a ray of colors. The two stare in awe as she jumps out of the way of the last Darkside’s attack.

“Maybe we should let her handle this.” Sora tells Riku as the silver haired boy circles above the fight.

“Are you sure?” Riku worries.

“If she needs help, we’re right here.” Sora laughs, assuring his friend.

“Alright.” Riku nods but Sora doesn’t have to see his face to know he’s worried something will happen to Kairi.

Chapter Text

Kairi wipes away some of the blood off of her lips. She can see Sora and Riku hovering up high, just out of reach to interfere but close enough to intervene should this fight go wrong. She grins and grips her Keyblade with both hands.

The other two Heartless had fallen before her, this last one would be no problem. Behind her, she can hear Aerith call out a healing spell.

And the cool, refreshing feeling of Aerith’s Curaga spell gives her a small lift. She races forward as its large arm swings for her and skirts out of the way before it can hit her. She slams her Keyblade into its arm as many times as she can before it rears back.

She almost misses the other arm coming at her, but she slides out of the way in time. Instead of attacking the arm again, she jumps up on top of it and runs up it. It tries to hit her but she lunges for its face. She unleashes her inner light through her Keyblade and strikes, slicing right through its dark face.

She falls as it disappears and panics for a second, but she lands with a bit of ease in a crouch.

She feels fatigue set in and the adrenaline fade away. Her boys land just a way off and Sora instantly runs over to her, a huge smile on his face.

“Kairi, that was AWESOME!” She meets Sora’s high five with her own before he picks her up in a hug and twirls her around twice.

She laughs as Riku meanders up, smiling at her and looking proud.

Sora sets her down and excuses himself to go check on Aerith and Yuffie. Riku walks closer and holds up his hand for her. She high fives him, feeling pumped.

Very impressive, Kairi.” Riku compliments her before trailing after Sora.

She follows her boys and makes her way over to the other three. She can feel her exhaustion in her bones and she wants to pass out but something feels off. Looming.

Aerith looks at her with concern, but she returns to Yuffie who is unconscious.

“Why don’t we get her back to the castle. She’s better off there.”

“I think Leon and Cloud were heading this way.” Sora tells them.

“Alright.” Aerith looks up at them, “I’ll stay with her and wait. You three should go check on the others.”

***

Finding Lea, Roxas, and Ventus is easy since the three of them were together. They aren’t able to talk long before Kairi curls up on herself a bit.

“Kairi?!” Sora worries, “Are you alright?”

“Y-yeah. But…just now I felt…” She looks up, face warped with fear and worry of her own.

Riku’s instantly at her side and he bends down so he can look at her face, “What did you feel?”

“I don’t know. It just felt…dark. Evil.”

“Where?” Lea asks, butting in.

Kairi’s brow knits in concentration, before she slowly turn and points out to the old castle. The one Riku had gotten possessed in. The one that Sora had given up his heart in.

“You’re sure?” Riku asks, but Sora knows he doesn’t doubt her.

He just needs to be sure before going back there.

“Yeah, it’s that way…why?”

Riku sends Sora a look, one full of remorse, before standing up straight.

“We should check it out.”

“Wait!” Kairi grips Riku’s arm tightly, “Don’t go.”

“We have to.” Sora tells her, “If you really felt something evil, Kairi, we have to go. It’s our job.”

Riku nods and Sora can hear Ven and Roxas’ agreement.

“I’m with Kairi on this. Do you really think you can take on whatever she felt?” Lea pipes in.

“We have to try.” Riku looks over at Sora who nods.

“Then I’m going, too.” Kairi states.

Sora smiles, “Alright. But don’t push yourself too hard.”

***

Lea hates having to ride on Kairi’s glider with her. But it’s necessary to get over the large trench surrounding the old castle. He’d seen it in its prime. The large ascending waterfalls were no more and the floating platforms had long since fallen but it was still gorgeous nonetheless.

The redhead looks over to Roxas – who is on his own glider, having summoned it with a deftness that amazed everyone – with concern. He’d barely been able to handle going to Castle Oblivion. How was he going to handle visiting the place he was created?

And what awaits them there?

He doesn’t have time to worry about it for long. A large Heartless emerges from the Castle and heads straight towards them. The red head watches as it cuts through the air on large wings. The Heartless heading for them opens its maw, showing a blackness even darker than its black skin, and hurls fireballs at them.

Immediately, they disperse so they don’t get hit, and Lea has to hold onto the glider so he doesn’t go falling off. Kairi steers her glider with a wild abandon that has Lea wondering if she has a death wish for either of them. Despite the recklessness she shows, she’s good at it.

But Lea wants to laugh. This stupid Heartless is launching fire at them. He extends his hand right after Kairi comes out of a nose dive and stops the fire in its tracks without so much as a second thought.

And just as easily, he sends it careening back at the bat winged Heartless.

Each fireball meets its mark, but the Heartless brushes off fire like Lea does and he can hear a curse leave Kairi’s mouth.

It gets closer and Lea thinks it resembles a dragon. One of the ones he’d seen in kids’ fairytale books growing up in Radiant Garden, not the ones he’d seen in other worlds.

Kairi stays as still as she can while Lea stops another hail of fire. Instead of sending it back, though, he lets it all extinguish.

Riku and Sora race forward, crossing over each other and going out wide as if to bypass the Heartless altogether. Roxas and Ventus climb into the sky above the Heartless, drawing its attention to them as they weave around each other.

While it’s trying to fire at the two blonds above it, Sora and Riku abruptly change direction and head towards it at a ridiculous pace. Their gliders vanish and their Keyblades take their place in their hands.

Roxas and Ventus stop their climb just as abruptly and turn, heading directly down, right at the Heartless’s face. Lea almost panics, but forces himself to concentrate on not letting any fire leave the Heartless at all.

Sora and Riku hit the Heartless dragon in the chest, cutting it in an ‘X’ pattern.

It starts to roar and turns to its ‘new’ foe, giving Roxas and Ven the opening they need. Their own gliders disappear as Sora and Riku land on theirs and their blades let them slice directly through the Heartless’s head.

Its cry fades as it dissipates.

“I’m friends with a bunch of showoffs.” Kairi mutters to herself as she takes them to meet up with the others.

The four of them are continuing on, but at a much slower pace so that Kairi and Lea can catch up. When they do catch up, Kairi calls out in a mocking voice, “Really? Four moves? You couldn’t have cut it down to two or three?”

Lea chuckles and Roxas calls out to her, “You’re just Jealous you weren’t part of the action!”

Kairi blows a raspberry at him and Lea is struck with the sudden feeling of wrong, but Roxas focuses on where he’s going so he can’t see if he felt it too.

No one else seems to think anything is wrong, so he brushes it off as the place they’re landing in. 

Chapter Text

Ven follows Sora’s lead and lands in one of the upper rooms of the castle through a broken roof. His new friends land with him. He stands and tries to reorient himself.

“Kairi?” Sora asks.

She closes her eyes and raises her hands as if in prayer. Before long she opens her eyes and points in a direction they can’t immediately go in.

“Lead the way,” Riku gently ushers her forward with a hand on her upper back.

She nods and takes the lead, guiding them through the complicated labyrinth that is Hallow Bastion’s Castle. Ven has long since gotten lost. The elevators go in every direction and don’t follow linear paths. Not only that, but Kairi has stopped no less than three times and turned around, deciding that they’re getting too far off course.

After that long fight with the Heartless horde and the large lizard Heartless, Ven is feeling the weariness in his bones.

But he pushes that aside as Kairi stops in front of a large set of doors. She hesitates before nodding and walking forward. The doors open with a loud groan from years of neglect.

The room is just like the rest of the castle save for the black stains on the floors and walls.

He feels a sense of dread fill him as they all make their way into the room. There’s no one and nothing here except for a broken computer console and a few splintered chairs.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Ven sees Kairi stiffen. He turns to her and calls her name. Sora looks over at her from the other side and looks concerned.

Then the world explodes and Ven feels the air leave his lungs in a rush. He’s going through the air and he can’t stop himself from colliding with the wall.

He lands with a thud and the world goes black. When it swim back, he’s not sure how long he blacked out but his vision swims and his ears ring incessantly.

What happened? he asks himself.

He opens his eyes again and sees the world in front of him tilting and refocusing but never on the right thing. He tries to push himself up, but pain explodes in his chest. His vision swims harder and he feels like he wants to throw up.

He might have bruised his ribs.

“What do you want with him?!” He hears someone – Sora, he thinks – yell, but it sounds worlds away.

The response is lost on Ven. Too far away.

What happened? he asks himself again.

He can hear someone yelling. He can hear a lot of yelling, but the only thing that sounds even remotely close to him is a loud thump as someone collides into the floor right next to him. Someone follows, but Ven doesn’t think it’s one of his friends.

Or is it?

He tries to pick his head up, but it’s too heavy. He tries to get his eyes to focus on the person in front of him. It’s no use. He’s going to throw up.

And just like that, a cooling wave of magic spills over him and his mind clears up remarkably.

A hand cups the side of his face and neck in a comforting way. Ven looks up and his heart skips a beat. Then the hand on his cheek moves to his throat and the grip goes from comforting to painful in no time at all.

“Ah!” He chokes out, “What are you doing!?”

It was right for all of three seconds before it all goes wrong. Or…he notices how wrong it really is. Nothing is right.

The colors, the expression, the clothes. This isn’t him.

He tries to kick out at the man in front of him, but it doesn’t do anything. He picks Ven up by his throat and stands. Ven can’t reach the floor, he’s more than a foot taller than the blond, and the minimal air he’d had left his body.

He looks around for his friends. Sora is lying limp just two feet from them and Ven doesn’t think he’ll be getting up any time soon.

Roxas is lying on the other side of the room with Lea by his side, freaking out. He doesn’t sound like he can breathe.

Keyblade in her shaking hand, Kairi is climbing out of a hole in the wall, looking absolutely wrecked. She’s covered in dust and there’s blood trailing down her cheek from a cut.

He can’t see Riku anywhere.

“Wh-” he chokes off. He claws at the hand around his throat.

He can’t breathe. He’s going to choke to death by this imposters hands.

“Let him go, Xehanort!” Kairi yells, readying her Keyblade.

Xehanort? But he’s so young, Ven can’t think straight. He can’t breathe.

***

“Let him go, Xehanort!” Kairi yells, scared.

“Not now, Princess. I’ve no use for you at the moment.” He ignores her for Ven, “But you. You’re finally awake. I forgot to thank Sora for finding you. I could never do it myself. Let’s see if you have what I need.” He summons his Keyblade, all dark mist and terrifying.

He ignores her and she decides to use that to her advantage. She brings her Keyblade up in front of her like she’d seen Cloud do with his Buster Sword in his sparring with Leon.

Xehanort raises his Keyblade so the tip rests against Ventus’ chest and she can see the fear on Ven’s face. The Keyblade shines and Ven’s face contorts in pain before the light blocks it out.

She makes her way down the rubble hill the wall had made and charges.

“Where is it?”

Kairi uses her Keyblade as a shield and tackles Xehanort, forcing him to lose his grip on the blond and sending him flying into the wall.

Ven lands with a thud, going almost as limp as Sora.

Xehanort stands, acting like the hit hadn’t done a thing to him at all.

“You’re becoming more troublesome than you’re worth, Princess.” He spits the title like an insult.

“You’re just as annoying as ever, Xehanort.” She readies her Keyblade.

Ven’s hand grabs her arm and he coughs out, “Stop.”

She looks down at the blond with confusion.

He looks at Xehanort with rage, “What did you do…”

Ven can barely talk but Xehanort laughs and answers, “To your friends? I didn’t do anything to the...‘Master’…but you can see what happened to the failure.” He waves a hand around, grin looking absolutely evil.

Ven’s lip curls into a snarl and Kairi feels like that must have hit a nerve.

“Since I answered your question, answer one of mine.” His face goes from pleasant to annoyed, “Where is it?”

Kairi has no idea what he’s talking about.

Xehanort snarls at them, “If it failed to take you over it should have at least merged back into you. Where is it?! You could not have gotten rid of it.”

So many questions swirl around Kairi’s head. Xehanort readies his weapon to attack them but a large fireball collides with him, knocking him back.

“Kairi! Grab Sora and run!”

Kairi doesn’t think twice about following Lea’s advice. She hauls up Sora’s limp body and throws him over her shoulders in a Fireman’s Carry. Lea leads her down the halls of Hallow Bastion’s eerie castle with a certainty she doesn’t question. Doesn’t let herself question.

Roxas is gasping for breath in Lea’s arms and Kairi fears that he might die before they can get him any help.

***

Lea grinds his teeth as he tries to ignore the grip Roxas has on him. His fist is bunched up in his shirt, long since giving up on grabbing at anything.

There are tears in the blonds eyes as he tries and fails to get air into his lungs.

He feels his rage roll again, but it shoves it to the back of his mind as he tries to concentrate. He leads Kairi and Ven back the way they came but he quickly finds a flaw with his plan. How were they going to make it out of here with only two gliders and two unconscious people?

If they went through with that it would either end in disaster or someone would have to stay behind.

He voices his concerns and Kairi looks like she might cry from frustration.

Roxas kicks out with one of his legs, trying to get Kairi’s attention. They all watch as Roxas raises his hand and opens a Pathway of Darkness. Lea feels his chest constrict in fear – he could never forget the feeling of fear – at the thought of going through the pathway.

He can see the apprehension clear on Ven’s face, but he doesn’t think about it. Kairi runs in first, never for a moment fearing the consequences, and she takes the unconscious Sora with her. Ven runs in after her, looking petrified, but Lea can’t tell if it’s because of their run in with Xehanort or because of Roxas’ Portal.

Lea runs in after them with Roxas in his arms.

Chapter Text

The second Lea is through the portal, Aerith is taking Roxas from his arms and is placing him on the table nearby. The blond is barely responding and Kairi fears that he might not make it. She makes her way over to the couch, which no one had moved since they brought it out here, and gently lays Sora down on it. She gingerly checks for a pulse, barely relieved when she feels the slightest beat of Sora’s heart.

Behind her, Leon and Aerith are trying to get Roxas to just breathe again and Kairi can feel herself shaking. Xehanort had been…terrifying. Way more powerful than she remembered him being. More powerful than Sora had said. He’d made mincemeat out of them.

How are we supposed to beat him?

She shakes her head, throwing the bad thoughts out. Sora and Riku had beaten him on their own. Surely their group could beat him now.

“Open his mouth.” She hears Ienzo command, surprised because she hadn’t heard him come in.

“Why?” Lea demands, probably with a little more heat than he’d intended.

“Because if we heal him like this, he still won’t be able to breathe when we’re done.” Leon pushes Lea out of the way and forces the nonresponsive Roxas’ mouth open.

Kairi looks away as Ienzo pushes a small tube down Roxas’ throat. She turns to see Ven who looks more shaken than she’d ever seen him.

“Are you okay?” She asks, diverting his attention from his own thoughts. “Not…mentally, cause something went on back there, I don’t know what, but I know something went on. But…you’re not hurt? Bleeding? I know he knocked you around a bit.”

“I…I’m fine.” Ven nods, “But…”

Ven looks like he’s going to cry so Kairi pulls him close.

“You can tell me when you’re ready.” Kairi runs her hand through the short hair at the back of his neck.

Loud coughing interrupts them. Not the kind that someone makes to purposefully interrupt a situation, but genuine coughing.

The two turn their attention to see Roxas curling up on his side, the tube now removed, and coughing while trying to – and succeeding at – draw in oxygen. But it sounds like he’s actually getting air into his lungs, so Kairi feels relieved.

Then Leon turns away from Roxas with a cold expression, “What happened? Where’s Riku?”

Ven chimes in, “That’s a good question. Where is Riku?” He looks at Kairi, worried.

Kairi sighs, looking down, “We walked right into a trap. Xehanort…he…” Kairi sighs before sitting down on the couch next to Sora.

****

The world explodes in darkness and Kairi is sent flying. Riku catches her and breaks her fall. She looks up to see a white haired young man standing on the balcony above the doorway.

“Xehanort.” Riku hisses, summoning his Keyblade.

Sora, on the other side of the room, does the same. Xehanort notices the movement and looks shocked to see Sora standing there.

“You really are quite tenacious, Sora.” Sora glares at him and falls back into a defensive stance, his face displaying more rage than Kairi’s ever seen.

“While it’s flattering that you want to fight me again so soon, I’m not here to bother with you. With any of you.” Xehanort, who looks so much younger than she’d imagined/remembered, looks past all of them and Kairi gasps when she sees Ven lying in a limp pile in the corner.

The blast had been aimed at him.

“What do you want with him?!” Sora demands.

“What is rightfully mine!” He smirks, “My X-Blade.”

Riku dashes over to Sora so that the two of them stand between Xehanort and the semi-conscious Ven. Xehanort glances between the two of them for a moment before laughing.

“My, Sora. I didn’t think you were capable of such a thing. Though I suppose you just took the idea from Ventus.” He steps off of the railing and floats down to the floor.

Roxas and Lea stand behind Xehanort, who hasn’t noticed them. Or perhaps he knows they’re there but he doesn’t deem them dangerous enough.

Kairi runs over to her best friends and stands on the other side of Sora, Keyblade ready in her hands.

Xehanort jerks his arm back, darkness swirling around it, before swinging it out in a wave and sending an arc of darkness careening at them.

Kairi darts out of the way, watching as her two friends do the same. As Kairi stands, she sees Xehanort block one Chakram and then another with his hands. Roxas charges at Xehanort, swinging Oathkeeper and Oblivion at the same time in an X.

Xehanort summons a terrifying Keyblade and swings upward, breaking Roxas’ attack. He reaches out with his hand and grabs Roxas by the throat and holds him in the air. Roxas struggles and tries to swing his Keyblades at Xehanort, but the white haired man blocks it easily with his own Keyblade.

“I’m really just here for my spawn, so forgive me for not playing with you longer.”

Kairi watches as Roxas’ face contorts in pain. She panics and stands on shaking legs.

I have to help him! She panics.

But he flings Roxas away as if he weighs nothing and the blond crashes right into Lea. Kairi notices that something is wrong with Roxas immediately and Lea must notice too because he’s hovering over Roxas with his back turned to the fight.

Then he turns to Sora and Riku, across the room from Kairi, and stalks towards them. Both of her boys fall into a defensive stance. Not surprisingly, Riku takes a tentative step in front of Sora.

Xehanort laughs, “Oh, do the two of you really think you’ll be any more formidable?.”

Sora glares at him, but neither of them respond to Xehanort’s taunts.

Instead of attacking them, the silver haired man turns and starts walking to Ven, who is still lying on the floor but doesn’t seem to be aware of anything going on around him.

Riku charges at Xehanort with Sora right behind him. But he sees it coming. Riku and Sora jump into the air and try to have gravity add to the force of their aerial attack, but Xehanort slams his Keyblade into Riku’s side and sends him flying to the side. His move brings him out of the way of Sora’s attack, and the brunet lands on his feet and spins to attack again.

Kairi races forward and swings her Keyblade at Xehanort, but he turns and blocks her attack as well. He blocks both of their attacks, despite the effort and fervor they put into them. Kairi can feel herself getting angry. She tries to not let it get to her, but it must because Xehanort finds an opening in her stance and exploits it by slamming the hilt of his Keyblade into her gut.

The wind gets knocked out of her and she goes sliding back quite a way, but her feet never leave the ground.

Kairi looks up in time to see Riku getting to his feet and Xehanort knocks Sora’s Keyblade out of his hands. Kairi’s not alarmed – she knows he can summon it back – until Xehanort grabs Sora by his shirt and hefts him into the air.

“You’re all becoming very troublesome. I should just get rid of you. Permanently.” He aims his Keyblade at Sora’s heart.

“NO! SORA!” Riku yells as he gets to his feet.

Xehanort looks over at Riku and smirks. He dissolves his Keyblade in a swathe of darkness and smiles. It’s disturbing and terrifying and Kairi never wants to see it again.

“But why kill you when I can incapacitate you both in one go?”

Kairi feels dread fill her heart when he lifts his hand in Riku’s direction. Darkness quickly forms a puddle underneath Riku. Riku tries to get out of the way before he gets stuck but a large pair of black hands reach up and grasp at his legs, knocking Riku onto his stomach.

“Riku!” Sora panics and struggles in Xehanorts’ grip.

Kairi runs over to Riku, hoping to banish the darkness with her light but another pair of arms surface and grab onto Riku, pulling him into the darkness faster.

She’s almost there when she hears Sora’s desperate cries, “No! RIKU!”

He’s pulled into the floor and the portal disappears right as Kairi reaches it. She looks to Xehanort with rage in her heart but she stops short as she watches the life drain from Sora almost instantaneously. He’s limp in Xehanorts’ grasp with his head lolling to the side and his eyes are completely blank.

Sora hangs in Xehanorts grip like a rag doll as he shakes the brunet a bit.

“Did you honestly think that would work without being exploited?” She knows he’s not talking to her.

She’s starting to think he doesn’t think she’s a threat at all. It may be true, but it’s still insulting and it pisses her off.

What did you do to them?!”Kairi yells, clutching her Keyblade with a death-grip.

“He’d make an excellent vessel like this.” Xehanort lifts one of Sora’s limp arms and drops it.

Kairi charges forward and swings her Keyblade in an arc, only to be blocked by Xehanort’s hand. She freezes in fear as he turns to look at her. A powerful force throws her back. She feels herself collide with a wall and the wall gives out.

Her world goes white for a bit, like static on her grandma’s old television, before she blinks and the world is back.

***

“When I came to, Xehanort was holding Ven, so I charged him and made him drop Ven. Then Ven asked about his friends and what Xehanort could have done with them and he said something about a Master and a failure and it got Ven pretty pissed. Then Lea attacked him with this huge fireball and we ran.”

Leon, Cloud, and Aerith all stare at her with a look of astonishment.

“Fascinating.” Ienzo mutters.

That snaps the others out of their stupor.

“What is?” Leon asks.

“Kairi, were those his exact words?” Ienzo looks at her and she can feel the seriousness in his gaze, “As accurately as I can remember. It all happened so fast.”

“It sounds right to me.” Lea backs her up as he sits next to Roxas and places his hand on the blond’s shoulder.

He’s probably still worried.

“Then I believe we’ve found the cause for Sora’s feinting spells.” Ienzo closes his eyes in thought, “The first time was right after Riku left to go get Kairi. The second was after Riku had gone to fight Heartless, and just now when Riku was taken into the Realm of Darkness. Assuming that’s where Xehanort sent him.”

“You’re saying Sora’s been feinting whenever Riku leaves?” Leon asks incredulously.

“I think so. If we can get Riku back, Sora should wake up. Provided that my theory is correct.”

“But Sora didn’t feint when Riku left for the Canyon, he feinted out of the blue.” Kairi argues. She’d been standing right next to Sora. He hadn’t feinted when Riku left.

“Perhaps he has to be a certain distance away?” Aerith comments. “Riku used a portal to go get you, right? Well when the portal closes it cuts off the connection, so Sora’s connection to his heart was severed.”

“Again, this is all speculation.” Ienzo interrupts, “We’ll have to get Riku back and test to see if Sora will wake up.”

“And how do you suppose we get Riku back? He’s kind of stuck in the realm of darkness, which is toxic to all humans. Which we are.” Kairi wants to smack Lea for the sarcastic tone he’s using.

“I think you’re forgetting about me.” Roxas pipes up from where he’s lying.

Everyone turns to Roxas, who looks exhausted, in silence.

“What?” He asks defensively, “I’m a Nobody. And I still have my Organization XIII coat which protects me from Darkness.”

“You are not going into the realm of Darkness alone.” Lea snaps.

“You can’t tell me what to do.” Roxas glares at Lea as he sits up, “And Sora would do it for you.”

“I don’t care what Sora would do. The idiot has literally ripped his heart out of his chest TWICE.”

“I don’t have a heart to rip out and that’s not even what we’re talking about. I’m not at risk from the Darkness and I can easily take out any Heartless.”

“Lea’s right.” Kairi interrupts as she folds her arms over her chest.

“See? Kairi’s backing me up. That means it’s a bad idea.” Lea smirks.

“That’s why I’m going with him.”

Lea whips his head to look at her so fast that she thinks it has to hurt. She thinks his eye might be twitching, but she brushes it off.

“Are you insane? The Realm of Darkness will -”

“Do absolutely nothing to me.” Kairi interrupts him.

“I agree with Kairi. Roxas shouldn’t go alone and she’s the only other candidate who won’t be affected.” Cloud stands beside Kairi, “She is a Princess of Heart, after all. No darkness to be found in her.”

Lea looks like he’s going to burst into flames out of frustration.

“I agree with you all, but Roxas has to rest first.” Leon interrupts them all, “He’s not going to be any help to anyone if he passes out and you’re both stranded there as well.”

That appeases Lea. Kind of. He looks less likely to explode than he was earlier.

Chapter Text

Roxas steps through the portal and into the Realm of Darkness with Kairi by his side.

“This place is…creepy.” She comments.

Roxas looks over to see her faintly glowing. Actually glowing. Like, there’s a white light surrounding her.

“Kairi, you’re glowing.”

“Thank you.” She smiles at him.

“No, you’re literally glowing.”

Kairi looks down at herself and gasps, “Oh! I am! I’m glowing!”

“Maybe it’s a Princess of Heart thing?”

Kairi laughs, “Maybe.” She twirls once before sighing and folding her arms over her chest, “Any idea how we find Riku?”

“I don’t know. We just keep walking until we find him.”

Before either of them can say much more, Roxas notices movement in the dark abyss the makes up the realm.

“And I think we should start. Now.” Roxas urges her on with a hand against the small of her back and the two of them start racing down one of the many roads that make up the Realm of Darkness.


Riku chokes on nothingness for what seems like forever as he’s falling through inky blackness. When he opens his eyes, there’s nothing for miles and miles. Or perhaps it’s just so dark that he can’t see three inches in front of his face.

It’s familiar here. He knows this place.

But he can’t be here right now. Sora and Kairi are in danger!

I have to get back. I have to help them!

As he keeps floating, his eyes adjust to the darkness. He notices familiar pathways passing him by. He knows they all connect. He knows they’re all intertwined and they all lead nowhere.

He notices he’s about to collide with one of the pathways and so he reorients his body so he’ll land on his feet.

Here, everything is weightless and crushing all at once. He lands with a silent thud.

How do I get out of here?

The first answer that comes to mind is a Pathway of Darkness. But that requires him giving in to the Darkness. The only other way he’s ever gotten out was because of the Door to Light.

Maybe someone will come for me, he thinks, if anyone survived.

The last thing he’d seen before being dragged into the Realm of Darkness was Sora, caught in Xehanorts’ clutches. Anger boils inside of him, but he stamps it down the best he can.

He thinks about Sora and Kairi. He thinks of the island and his friends there. He thinks about all of his new friends in Hollow Bastion. He thinks of them and lets them calm him down.

When he opens his eyes, the world around him doesn’t seem as daunting.

He turns in a circle to see the world about him. He picks a direction at random and starts walking.

No point in standing in one place for the Heartless to find me.

He walks, feeling more and more resentment for himself and this place. How could he let himself get dragged back here? Again.

How weak can I be? He chastises himself.

A chill runs up his spine, telling him that something is watching him. His Keyblade is out in an instant but he doesn’t stop walking. There’s a shifting in the distance. A large shifting.

A large Heartless rises up in the distance and turns, zeroing in on him in seconds.

Riku knows Heartless are much stronger here, so he picks up the pace. Just ahead of him he can see more shifting. He runs past it, following the path, and knows it saw him too.

He starts panicking when he passes by more and more Heartless. He skids to a stop at an intersection, trying to figure out which way to go before a voice calls out, “Get down!”

Riku quickly darts forward and rolls so he’s out of harm’s way.

He looks up in time for light to explode everywhere. It reminds Riku of one of Sora’s spells and he has to cover his eyes. When he opens his eyes, there are spots of light floating everywhere.

He’s pulled by his hand down one of the pathways and he blinks rapidly to clear up his vision. When he can see again, he realizes he’s being pulled along by a girl who doesn’t look that much older than him.

She pulls him along, appearing to know where she’s going.

She’s almost as tall as him, maybe an inch or two shorter.

They don’t stop running until they reach the same beach he’d found with Sora. The girl drops her hand and turns to him.

“Are you alright? Did the shadows get you?”

Riku gets a good look at her face. She looks…like she’s been in the darkness for a very, very long time.

“Yeah. Thanks. I don’t know if I could have fought all of those Heartless.”

“Heartless?” She tilts her head, “Is that what you call them?”

“It’s what they’re called.” The more Riku looks at her, the more he thinks she looks…strangely familiar, “Have we met before?”

“I doubt that. I’ve been trapped here in the darkness for a…very long time.” She shuffles, playing with a piece of her tattering wardrobe.

“I’m Riku.” He offers his hand out to her, “Thank you, again, for saving me.”

She smiles and shakes his hand, “It’s nice to meet you, Riku. I’m Aqua.”